AL-HALBOUNI — Adel, a teenager, worked with his father at their small shop near al-Halbouni, not far from Damascus. By age 17, he had dropped out of school to support his family, as their financial situation grew desperate after years of war.

Adel wasn't a supporter of Syria's government, but that didn't prevent him from being forced to fight on its behalf. He was arrested at one of the army checkpoints in the town of Qudsaiya in the Damascus countryside, then sent off to battle.

"We were on our way to work," Adel's father recounts. "We got stopped at a checkpoint, and there was the usual ID check. One of the men manning the checkpoint took a closer look at Adel's ID before heading off to talk to the rest of the soldiers. He returned and told me that Adel would be serving in the army. I asked him to check Adel's ID again. He wasn't of age to serve. He screamed at me and said I'd get arrested if I didn't comply with their orders."

His attempts to rescue his son were futile. He went home, terrified of being arrested. Four days later, he received word that his son had been killed in battle.

"One of the soldiers knocked on our door and asked me to sign a document, showing I received word about a [family] death," Adel's father recalls. "In the beginning, I thought there was a mistake, but it was true. The soldier informed me that I needed to go pick up the body from one of the military hospitals. I couldn't believe my eyes. I cried like a baby."

The next day, he headed to the hospital to pick up his son's body. One of the hospital caregivers told him Adel was killed during a battle between the regime forces and opposition fighters in the Damascus countryside.

Syrian rebels near Aleppo — Photo: Medyan Dairieh/ZUMA

"I still don't believe it," Adel's father says. "He was only away for four days. He was supposed to be in a training camp for at least six months. The caregiver told me Adel was brought in with other wounded soldiers and that his injuries were fatal. He died immediately. It was a real nightmare."

A commonplace occurrence

Adel isn't the only young victim of conscription. Abdul was two months shy of his 18th birthday and also a high school dropout who left his studies behind as the situation in Syria deteriorated. He had been serving in the Syrian army for only 20 days when he was arrested in a security raid meant to stop new recruits from leaving.

"I was planning to flee to Turkey this month to get out of compulsory army service, but I got caught," he says while on sick leave at home. "I was assigned to one of the barracks in the al-Sabboura area where training camps are held. Many of the guys there were my age or a little older. We practiced for only a week how to shoot a gun."

Abdul said that he was sent with a few others to fight at the Joubar front in Damascus after a week of training. Officers told the new recruits that they would train on the battlefield, adding that there was no need to be scared.

"I found myself on the front lines the next day," he says. "I was terrified. I was scared of the other soldiers. The clashes were heavy, and we were ordered to open fire. I was shot in the foot and fainted. I was then transferred to the Tishreen military hospital."

When Abdul woke up, he was lying on the hospital floor, because all the beds were taken by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon. He risked losing his foot to infection, as the injury went untreated. But he was later given care, then granted sick leave.

"I have no choice now," he says. "I can't desert the army, and they will definitely put me back on the field as soon as I get better. All I want is to survive the battlefield. There's nothing else I can do."