|© UNICEF/ HQ04-0654/Brooks|
|A former child soldier looks at the countryside of Afghanistan from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks.|
Worldwide, an estimated 300,000 children are engaged in armed conflicts—with tragic consequences. They are often forcibly recruited or abducted to join armies, some under the age of 10. Many of them have witnessed or taken part in acts of unbelievable violence, often against their own families or communities.
In Article 38, the Convention on the Rights of the Child urges governments to take all feasible measures to ensure that children under 15 have no direct part in hostilities. The Convention also set 15 years as the minimum age at which an individual can be voluntarily recruited into or enlist in the armed forces. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict is an effort to strengthen implementation of the Convention and increase the protection of children during armed conflicts.
The Protocol requires States who ratify it to “take all feasible measures” to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. States must also raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into the armed forces from 15 years but does not require a minimum age of 18. The Protocol does, however, remind States that children under 18 are entitled to special protection and so any voluntary recruitment under the age of 18 must include sufficient safeguards. It further bans compulsory recruitment below the age of 18. States parties must also take legal measures to prohibit independent armed groups from recruiting and using children under the age of 18 in conflicts.
When ratifying the Protocol, States must make a declaration regarding the age at which national armed forces will permit voluntary recruitment, as well as the steps that States will take to ensure that such recruitment is never forced or coerced. This requirement is particularly important because the Optional Protocol does not establish age 18 as a minimum for voluntary recruitment into the armed forces—only for direct participation in armed conflict.
After receiving the first 10 ratifications needed for its entry into force, the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict became legally binding on 12 February 2002. Today, more than 100 countries have signed and ratified this Protocol. For more information on the process of ratification or accession, click on ‘Using the Convention to protect children’ on the left menu.