Rights of Child Soldier - an international perspective
The rights of the child are internationally recognized in the
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) of 1989. The Convention,
which was signed by Sri Lanka on January 26, 1990 and ratified on July
12, 1991, had 140 signatory States as at 1 November 2006.
For the purposes of the Convention, a child means every human being
below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the
child, majority is attained earlier.
As the Convention on the rights of the child is an international
treaty that binds States parties, the primary responsibility lies in the
State concerned to ensure protection of the child from all forms of
Arguably the most compelling requirement of the treaty is that no
child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his
or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks
on his or her honour and reputation, and that the child has the right to
the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.
Another compelling and important provision in the Convention is
Article 19 which demands that States Parties take all appropriate
legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect
the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or
abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation,
including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s)
or any other person who has the care of the child. Every child has a
right to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental,
spiritual, moral and social development.
The parent(s) or others responsible for the child have the primary
responsibility to secure, within their abilities and financial
capacities, the conditions of living necessary for the child's
As for education, the child has, under the Convention, the right to
education. To this end, primary education should be compulsory and
available free to all, and different forms of secondary education,
including general and vocational education, should be made available and
accessible to every child.
Another most important consideration lies in Article 32 which
provides that States Parties recognize the right of the child to be
protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that
is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or
to be harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual,
moral or social development.
Article 37 is yet another forceful provision which ensures that no
child will be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment or punishment.
Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility
of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below
eighteen years of age and that no child shall be deprived of his or her
liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.
The Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for
the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour, known in short as
the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, was adopted by the
International Labour Organisation (ILO) on June 17, 1999 by the General
Conference of the International Labour Organization at its
It entered into force in November 2000. By ratifying this Convention,
a State commits itself to taking immediate action to prohibit and
eliminate the worst forms of child labour.
Sri Lanka ratified this Convention on March 01, 2001. The Convention
recognizes that the use of persons under 18 years of age in armed
conflict is one of the worst forms of child labour.
The military use of children refers to children being placed in
harm's way in military actions, in order to protect a location or
provide propaganda. This is sometimes referred to as child sacrifice,
though not equivalent to the religious variety. It may also refer to the
use of children as child soldiers or saboteurs.
The worldwide number of child soldiers is estimated to be between
250,000 and 300,000 (as of 2006), a third of whom are girls; however it
is difficult to know the correct number, as most of them are deployed in
armed rebel groups.
Examples of massive use of children as soldiers in recent years could
be found in armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Sudan, Cote d'Ivoire, Myanmar, Philippines, and Colombia.
The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on
the involvement of children in armed conflicts, adopted and opened for
signature, ratification and accession by United Nations General Assembly
resolution A/RES/54/263 of May 25, 2000 entered into force on February
12, 2002. Sri Lanka signed the Protocol on 21 August 2000 and ratified
it on September 08, 2000.
The Protocol, which aims at strengthening further the implementation
of rights recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
recognizes that there is a need to increase the protection of children
from involvement in armed conflict.
Therefore the Protocol condemns the targeting of children in
situations of armed conflict and direct attacks on objects protected
under international law, including places that generally have a
significant presence of children, such as schools and hospitals.
It must be noted that the Protocol does not prohibit a State from
recruiting into their armed forces any person under the age of 18,
provided such recruitment is done with the consent of the recruit.
However, it does not allow such a person recruited to be involved in
Red Hand Day was initiated in 2002 when the Optional Protocol to the
Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in
Armed Conflict entered into force on February 12, 2002.. A number of
international organizations are active against the use of children as
These organizations include, for example, the United Nations Child
Fund (UNICEF), Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes or the
International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
They may not be enough as it takes a world to combat this practice.
International legal standards applicable to child soldiers - Part II
Continued from November 22
The Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in
Armed Conflict (2000) is considered to be a momentous step by the
international community to eradicate an inhuman practice across the
It was hoped these provisions would help to curb the phenomenon of
child soldering, and alleviate ambiguities of similar provisions
included in the CRC, Protocol I and II of 1977. However, some experts in
the field do not view this Protocol favourably.
According to their arguments; it does not specify a minimum age for
indirect participation in hostilities and exempts military schools from
complying with the minimum age requirement.
Additionally, it does not set a uniform minimum age for voluntary
recruitment although States would be required to raise the respective
ages from the current minimum of 15 years and there is no supervision
with regard to maintenance of safeguards especially that of voluntary
However, changes in the law alone will not prevent the recruiting of
children as soldiers of war. The desired results can only be achieved
through creative use of the new Protocol.
The rapid universal ratification of this new Optional Protocol is
most important in order to curb this practice, and thus to avoid the
adverse impact on children caught up in war.
There are 52 State Parties to this Protocol as of March 2003. Sri
Lanka signed the Protocol on 21 August 2000 and ratified in on 8
Upon ratification Sri Lanka in accordance with Article 3 (2) of the
Protocol declared that under the laws of the country there is no
compulsory, forced or coerced recruitment to the national armed forces;
recruitment is solely on a voluntary basis, and the minimum age for
voluntary recruitment to the national armed forces is 18 years.
If States Parties take the necessary steps to incorporate these new
international standards in their domestic legal systems it will be a
significant move towards better implementation. The Committee on the
Rights of the Child is expected to lessen the shortcomings of the text
by making a strict interpretation of it.
At a national level, positive development were seen in Colombia and
the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In Colombia, legislation was
enacted in 1999 raising the minimum age for recruitment into the
government armed forces to 18. Subsequent to this, the Colombian Army
discharged 980 soldiers under the age of 18.
In the DRC a national commission and an inter-ministerial committee
were established to oversee the disarmament, demobilization, and
reintegration into society of child combatants. On the other hand, in
Sierra Leone pro and anti government forces continue to recruit
In Nepal, the Maoist armed opposition group has recruited children as
young as 14. In Sri Lanka also, the LTTE still recruits children.
Further to this new Optional Protocol, international support to end
the use of child soldiers is reflected in the adoption of the Maputo
Declaration of 1999 on the use of Children as Soldiers, the Montevideo
Declaration of 1999 on the use of Child Soldiers, the Berlin Declaration
of 1999 on the use of Child Soldiers and the Katmandu Declaration of
2000 on the use of Child Soldiers.
The UN Security Council, the UN General Assembly, the UN Commission
on Human Rights, the Organisation of American States and the
Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe have all condemned
Many governments around the world have raised the age of recruitment
to their armed forces to the level of 18 years.
The UN Secretary-General has set 18 as a minimum age for the
recruitment of UN peacekeepers. Even some armed groups, seeking
recognition and legitimacy within the international community, have
acknowledged the principle.
Cooperative efforts were made by some countries, UN agencies, and
NGOs - especially the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child soldiers - to
advocate the adoption of the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of
Children in Armed Conflict.
Additionally, the following initiatives achieved both a direct and
indirect impact on the recruiting of children as soldiers of war.
(d) International Labour Organisation Convention on the Elimination
of the Worst Forms of Child Labour of 1999.
The International Labour Organisation Convention Number 182 on the
Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour was adopted unanimously
by the 174 Member States of the International Labour Organisation on 16
This Convention commits each State Party to take immediate and
effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the
worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency.
According to this Convention, the term 'child' applies to all persons
under the age of 18, and the worst forms of child labour include forced
or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
Correspondingly, this Convention obliges States Parties to prohibit
the forced or compulsory recruitment of children under 18 for use in
This was the first instance that an 18-year minimum age limit was set
in an international convention in relation to child soldiering, even
before the Optional Protocol to the CRC of 2000. It was also the first
specific legal recognition of child soldiering as a form of child labour.
(e) UN Security Council Resolution 1261
On 25 August 1999, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1261 on
Children and Armed Conflict. This Resolution is significant, not only
for the attempt at the eradication of the phenomenon of child
soldiering, but also for minimizing other adverse effects of conflict on
The Resolution urges States and all relevant organs of the United
Nations system to intensify their efforts to ensure the eradication of
the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.
The Security Council strongly condemned the targeting of children in
situations of armed conflict, including sexual violence, abduction and
forced displacement, and recruitment and use of children in armed
This Resolution is considered an important milestone, because the
Security Council has for the first time devoted a Resolution to a
thematic concern, which is unrelated to a specific situation or an
In so doing, it has clearly demonstrated its commitment to the
protection of children affected by armed conflict, with special emphasis
on curbing the phenomenon of child soldiering.
(f) UN Security Council Resolution 1314
On 11 August 1999, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1314 on
Children and Armed Conflict.
In this Resolution the Security Council stressed the prohibition of
child soldiering, and considered declaring regional initiatives towards
full implementation of the prohibition of the use of child soldiers in
violation of international law.
The Security Council also reaffirmed its strong condemnation of the
deliberate targeting of children in situations of armed conflict and
stressed the harmful and widespread impact of armed conflict on
children, and the long-term consequences this has for a durable peace,
security and development.
Accordingly, the Council urged all parties to armed conflict to
respect fully the international law applicable to the rights and
protection of children in armed conflict, and in particular the CRC and
the new Protocol on Child Soldiers. This Resolution also has a
considerable impact on the plight of child soldiers.
(g) The Statute of the International Criminal Court
Article 8 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC),
adopted in July 1998 in Rome, makes it an international crime for any
person to recruit children under 15 years or to use them in hostilities,
whether in international or an internal armed conflict, and whether or
not they are acting on behalf of a government.
Accordingly, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15
years into the national armed forces or using them to participate
actively in hostilities, whether committed by State armed forces,
paramilitary forces, or armed dissident groups, is a war crime carrying
international criminal liability.
Although it also stipulates 15 years as the minimum age limit for
recruiting as soldiers of war in line with the CRC and Protocol I and II
of 1977, the jurisdiction of the court over the use of child soldiers as
a war crime is very significant. Therefore it is expected that the ICC
which started functioning in 2003 will end an era of impunity for war
crimes included in this Statute.
To deal with this problem twofold action should be taken: the
protection of children from being recruited as soldiers by governments
or other armed forces, and the demobilization and reintegration of child
soldiers into society, and the prevention.
More effective measures must be taken to prevent the recruitment of
child soldiers. These should include monitoring and enforcing legal
commitments to forbid recruitment below the minimum age specified in the
new Protocol, introducing or re-establishing reliable birth registration
systems, and providing educational and vocational opportunities for
Stopping or preventing the recruitment of children requires an
understanding of conflict situations and the conditions that have led
these young people to become members of military groups.
Communities should be encouraged to give priority to fostering the
culture of peace, and to develop and carry out peace, reconciliation and
community awareness initiatives, and to create channels for child
participation in policy-making and in the design, implementation,
monitoring and evaluation programmes.
In order to stop recruiting children; States should ratify the
Optional Protocol on Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and other
legal instruments relevant to the protection of children in armed
conflict and take necessary steps to ensure that national laws are
compatible with international legal standards pertaining to curb the
At the domestic level, initiatives should be taken to provide
training to army personnel and non-State actors on child rights and
protection, to develop prevention strategies to reduce the factors that
make children vulnerable to voluntary recruitment, and to ensure the
right of children to participate in decision making.
It is difficult to lobby non-State armed groups directly to stop
recruiting children. However, when offending non-State actors seek
international recognition, the international community can highlight
their violation of children's rights and debar their demand.
Setting up mechanisms to monitor the situation of child soldiers and
study its causes in different countries is crucial in curbing this
problem on the ground.
Creating an international monitoring mechanism which can oversee
State practices and relevant national legislation and policies may help
to stop the phenomenon.
Child soldiers must be protected from retribution, summery execution,
arbitrary detention, torture and other punitive measures in accordance
with the CRC and international juvenile justice standards.
Rehabilitation and demobilization of child soldiers
Disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating ex-child combatants into
society is very important. Unless children demobilized from armies and
given alternatives to soldiering, they are likely to be again recruited
into armed groups.
Reintegrating children requires dedicated and long-term support,
beginning with programmes to reunify them with their families and
communities. Many demobilization programmes falter because of flawed
design, insufficient monitoring or lack of resources.
Governments and humanitarian agencies must develop better schemes to
cater for the special needs of former child soldiers. This should
include provision for education, health care, life skills, psychosocial
recovery and vocational training.
Promoting peaceful settlement of armed conflicts would lead to the
cessation of the use of child soldiers as well as to their
demobilization. The issue of demobilization of child soldiers, their
rehabilitation and reintegration into society must be included in any
The Secretary-General released a Statement in February 2000 on the
'Role of United Nations Peacekeeping in Disarmament, Demobilization and
Reintegration.' This was a step towards increasing commitment to include
child soldiers in demobilization and reintegration programmes in
Above discussed positive developments are important in improving the
lives of war-affected children who face the risk of being recruited as
soldiers of war.
However, further action should be taken to protect them. IT is
essential to develop practical and sustainable modes and processes in
order to fully implement the new Optional Protocol to the CRC worldwide
as rapidly as possible. The political will of all the State Parties is
important in this regard.
The functions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child are
significant for better enforcement of the provisions embodied in this
Protocol. This Committee should be keen on the curbing of child
recruitment, and instruct States to include information about this
phenomenon in their country reports.
Recruitment of children into warfare has grave consequences on the
global future and peace. The international community must continue to do
all it can to maintain and restore international peace and security, and
to protect and assist children.
States must ensure that persons under the age of 18 years are not
recruited into their armed forces, and insurgent groups and rebels
should ensure that members below the age of 18 years do not take a
direct part in hostilities.
There should be no space in which exploitation, recruitment,
targeting of or violence against any child is justifiable.
For that, an effective international monitoring network should be
developed to ensure systematic reporting of child recruitment. A plan of
action should be drawn up to rehabilitate and reintegrate ex-child
soldiers in post-conflict situations.
The time has come to achieve an 'era of application' by implementing
existing laws rapidly, and respecting concrete commitments enshrined in
international instruments. However, moving from theory to practice still
remains a major challenge.
Promoting international awareness of the issue and the role of
international organisations in this regard, is of utmost importance. The
international community should mobilize a movement of political pressure
such as naming, shaming and refusing support for armed groups that
continue to abuse child.
The writer is a lecturer at the Faculty of Law of the University of
Colombo. She is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB (Hons). This article was
first published in the Sri Lanka Journal of International Law. Concluded
Next month's debate on 'Commercialisation of Christmas'
Misty mornings, a cool breeze and the sound of
carols: there is no getting away from the feel of Christmas wherever in
the world you are, even in many countries where Christianity is not the
main religion. It's time to celebrate the birth of Jesus who brought the
message of peace to Earth.
But, has Christmas been confined today to
decorations, Santas, snowmen, tinsel and expensive gifts? Has the true
spirit of Christmas been obscured by shop windows advertising 'X'mas'
sales? Does the younger generation know the deeper meaning of Christmas?
Or, is a Christmas free of commercialisation only a
myth in the present market-based economy ? Is it possible to balance the
commercial aspects of the festival without losing the true meaning of
As the month of Christmas draws near, take some time
to ponder over the present attitudes to Christmas. The 'Daily News
Debate' for next month is 'the commercialisation of Christmas'.
Send your views (between 700-1000 words) on the above
topic before December 13 to 'Daily News Debate', Daily News, Associated
Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, PO Box 1217, Colombo, or via e-mail to