Hay’at Tahrir al Sham detained three children on September 30, 2021, when they were passing through one of the group’s checkpoints in Atama village in the northern suburbs of Idlib governorate, which divide Hay’at Tahrir al Sham-controlled areas from Syrian National Army-controlled areas; the children were arrested on charges of trying to smuggle cigarettes into HTS-controlled areas by hiding them under their clothes. The HTS personnel at the checkpoint filmed the children, and released them later the same day.
SNHR obtained information on the children, two of whom are orphaned brothers, while the third child is the breadwinner for his family; all are from Jozef village in south of Idlib governorate, and currently living in Deir Ballout IDP Camp, located in Deir Ballout village which is administratively a part of Afrin city in north of Aleppo governorate. Local activists told us that the children have resorted to smuggling because of the extreme poverty they suffer from.
A photo received by SNHR showed the three children while they were detained at the checkpoint, with fearful expressions clear on their faces, leading us to believe that the HTS personnel who detained them and filmed the video intentionally published it with the aim of showing these traumatised children in a demeaning situation insulting to their human dignity, in order to intimidate the rest of the community’s children and their families.
The majority of children in northwest Syria are forcibly displaced, and have not yet recovered from the ramifications of losing their homes and being separated from the hometowns and environment where they grew up, in addition to being traumatized by the loss of and separation from family and friends, and enduring the horrendous poverty experienced by all the displaced which exposes them to exploitation and child labor and deprives them of their basic rights to education and protection.
SNHR condemns the phenomenon of child exploitation and the spread of the worst forms of child labor in the HTS- controlled areas, which is a clear violation of both the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture. SNHR calls on HTS to end the exploitation of children in these degrading forms of labor and to hold those involved in such exploitation in areas under their control accountable. We also call on local and international organizations concerned with children for coordinating efforts, providing psychological and material care to children and allocating sufficient resources for their rehabilitation and protection.