In 2011, the United Nations declared October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child, calling on member states to uphold the protections for girls included in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
In 2020, the U.N. has chosen to observe this day by highlighting the provisions protecting girls’ rights in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which was adopted 20 years ago. It has specifically called on the international community to take action to protect girls from gender-based violence and harmful practices, including forced marriages and underage marriages.
17 girls whose names are known have been reported to have been kidnapped in occupied Afrin since 2018. Seven have reportedly been released, while the whereabouts of 10 others are unknown. Four were reportedly subjected to some form of torture or sexual violence in custody, including two alleged instances of forced marriages. Syrian National Army groups allegedly implicated in the kidnapping of minor girls include the Hamza Division, the Sultan Murad Division, Ahrar al Sharqiya, Jaysh al Nukhba, Jabhat al Shamiyah, Failaq al Sham, and the Turkish-backed Military Police.
The most recent report from the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria stated that “women and girls have been detained by Syrian National Army fighters, and subjected to rape and sexual violence – causing severe physical and psychological harm at the individual level, as well as at the community level.” Reports from human rights monitors also suggest that rates of underage marriages are increasing in Afrin, due to both violence from armed groups and a lack of legal protections.
10 Girls Still Missing
The 10 reported cases of missing girls in Afrin seen by the Missing Afrin Women Project include incidents that took place as early as January 2018 and as recently as September 2020.
Aya Nuri Rasho, 13 at the date of the incident, and Nura Nuri Rasho, 11 at the date of the incident, were allegedly kidnapped along with several relatives by an unidentified armed group in Bulbul in January 2018.
Asia Shabaan Ibrahim, 16 at the date of the incident, was allegedly abducted along with her brother in March 2018 from the village of Hesen Dera by an unidentified armed group. Some reports indicate that her brother was killed in custody, while others allege that he remains missing as well.
Yasemin Hesen, 12 at the date of the incident, was allegedly abducted from Darmashkanlī village in May 2018 by an unknown armed group and forced to marry one of its members.
Rojin Mohammed, 17 at the date of the incident, was allegedly kidnapped by the Sultan Murad Division or the Hamza Division in July 2018, following the kidnapping of her sister Lonjin Mohammed and her father Mohammed Khalil Abdo.
On June 15th, 2020, Afrin Post identified Rojin as one of the women detained in an illegal prison run by the Hamza Division in Afrin city. A member of the family told Rudaw on June 17th that the sisters were likely now held in a Hamza Division base in Bassouta.
Jihan Tana, 17 at the date of the incident, was allegedly abducted from Jinderes in August 2018 by members of Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, along with several relatives.
Lafa Mustafa Yousef, 17 at the date of the incident, was allegedly abducted from her family’s home in the Mahmoudiyah neighborhood of Afrin city by members of an unknown armed group in November 2018. The group reportedly stole 350,000 SYP from the home.
Shatha Khalil Mustafa, underage at the date of the incident, was allegedly abducted from Ba‘dinlī village near Rajo by the Military Police in March 2020.
Melek Nabih Khalil Juma, 16 at the date of the incident, was allegedly abducted by the Sultan Murad Division in May 2020 after refusing marriage proposals from a member of the group.
Some sources initially claimed that she was murdered, though others later identified the body found near Azaz and claimed to be hers as a different woman who had been killed by a male relative. In an interview published by Hawar News, a relative stated that her family did not know where she was or if she was alive or not.
Maryam Afdik Sheikho, 17 at the date of the incident, was allegedly kidnapped by Ahrar al Sharqiyah in September 2020. She was accused of dealing with the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria.
Rates of Underage Marriage Increasing
Kidnappings, forced marriages, and other threats posed by armed groups have also led to a reported increase in underage marriages in occupied Afrin, according to a report published by the Violations Documentation Center in Northeast Syria.
Some families have reportedly forced their underage daughters to marry relatives in order to “protect” them from armed groups. A video obtained by the Missing Afrin Women Project shows one alleged incidence of a man beating his wife after she had refused to allow a member of an armed group to marry their daughter.
Underage marriage and forced marriage were both outlawed by the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria when it controlled Afrin. Civil society organizations worked to stop these practices when they took place and raise awareness of their harmful effects. Similar efforts have not been made by Turkish-backed authorities.
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria has found that, in areas of Syria under Turkey’s effective control, Turkey “remains bound by applicable human rights treaty obligations vis-à-vis all individuals present in such territories.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet has called on Turkey to “immediately launch an impartial, transparent and independent investigation into the incidents we have verified, account for the fate of those detained and abducted by the affiliated armed groups and hold accountable those responsible for what may, in some instances, amount to crimes under international law, including war crimes.”
Turkey has adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. By allowing abductions and disappearances of girls and sexual and gender-based violence against girls to take place in Afrin, and overseeing an environment of violence and gender discrimination there that has “in effect confined [women and girls] to their homes,” Turkey is in violation of these commitments.
The international community must hold Turkey and the SNA fully accountable for all violations of girls’ rights in Afrin and other occupied regions of Syria, and demand an end to all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and gender discrimination in these areas.