Child Soldiers Protocol

On 25 May 2000, acting without a vote, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict 2000 prohibiting the use of children under 18 years in combat.

The new protocol establishes 18 as the minimum age for participation in armed conflict, for any compulsory recruitment, and for any recruitment or use in armed conflict by armed groups. It calls on governments to raise their minimum age for voluntary recruitment, but regrettably, still allows governmental armed forces to accept voluntary recruits from the age of 16, subject to certain safeguards.

The Optional Protocol requires State Parties to take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities, and that such persons are not compulsorily recruited. States parties shall raise the minimum age of voluntary recruitment from that set out in Article 38 of the Convention.

In terms of voluntary enlistment, the Optional Protocol raises the minimum age to at least 16 and includes specific and verifiable safeguards, including the provision of reliable proof of age and the informed consent of both volunteer and parents.

Article 4 states that armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces of a State should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years. State Parties must take all feasible measures to prevent such recruitment and use, including the adoption of legal measures necessary to prohibit and criminalize such practices.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, welcomed its adoption.

“A momentous step has been taken in the global effort to eradicate the use of children as soldiers”, he said. “This outcome is a victory for children exposed to cynical exploitation in situations of armed conflict. Now, concrete action must follow — starting with the speedy signature and ratification by United Nations Member States of this landmark agreement.”

“We must now organize more effectively to monitor adherence by parties in conflict to their commitments and obligations to protect children, leaning ever more urgently on armed groups that are abusing children as combatants right now”, Mr Otunnu said. “The international community must make it clear that all warring parties will be held to account if they fail to comply with this new international standard.”

Links to other pages dealing with this issue:

Child soldiers portal

Child soldiers

Protocol on child soldiers

Links to other conventions dealing with this issue:

Worst Forms of Child Labor Convention 1999

Internet links:

Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict


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