IHL prohibits the recruitment and use of children in hostilities.

The prohibition is applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. The bans on recruitmentof children below the age of 15 enshrined in Article 77 of  Additional Protocol I, and in Article 4 of Additional Protocol II are also considered to prohibit accepting voluntary enlistment (P I, Art. 77 (2); P II, Art. 4(3)(c)).

In international armed conflicts, the prohibition covers direct participation in hostilities, while in non-international armed conflicts, it covers any type of participation in hostilities. In both IACs and NIACs, these terms (“direct participation” and “participation”) are understood more broadly than the term “direct participation in hostilities” as it is  used  in the language of the rule governing the conduct of hostilities which deprives civilians from protection against attacks.

Article 38(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibiting the recruitment of children below the age of 15 is similarly interpreted as banning voluntary enlistment of such children and, hence, completely outlawing child soldiers.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child differentiates between States and non-State armed groups in setting the age-limit for recruitment and use in hostilities. For States, the age limit for direct participation in hostilities and for compulsory recruitment is 18. This means they can accept voluntary enlistment of persons between the ages of 15 and 18. Armed groups, on the other hand, are bound by a stricter prohibition, affecting both voluntary and compulsory recruitment of under-18s.

An Occupying Power must not enlist children on the occupied territory (GC IV, Art. 50). This provision is understood to relate only to children below the age of 15 years.

Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, conscripting or enlisting children into armed forces or groups constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts (ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) and (e)(vii)).

 See Children; EnlistmentRecruitmentWar Crimes;






Suggested readings:

ABBOTT Amy Beth, “Child Soldiers – The Use of Children as Instruments of War”, in SuffolkTransnational Law Review, Vol. 23/2, 2000, pp. 499-537.

BREEN Claire, “When is a Child not a Child?: Child Soldiers in International Law”, in Human Rights Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, January-March 2007, pp. 71-103.

BRETT Rachel & MACCALLIN Margaret, Children: The Invisible Soldiers, Rädda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children), Stockholm, 1996, 257 pp.

BUGNION François, “Les enfants soldats, le droit international humanitaire et la Charte africaine des droits et du bien-être de l’enfant”, in African Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 12/2, 2000, pp. 262-275.

COHN Ilene & GOODWIN-GILL Guy S., Child Soldiers. The Role of Children in Armed Conflicts, Geneva/Oxford, Henry-Dunant Institute/Clarendon Press, 1994, 228 pp.

COLLMER Sabine, “Child Soldiers: an Integral Element in New, Irregular Wars?”, in The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 3/3, September 2004, pp. 1-11

DELISSEN Astrid J.-M., “Legal Protection of Child-Combatant after the Protocols: Reaffirmation, Development or a Step Backwards”, in Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict – Challenges Ahead, Essays in Honour of Frits Kalshoven, Dordrecht, M. Nijhoff, 1991, pp. 153-164.

DUTLI Maria Teresa, “Captured Child Combatants”, in IRRC, No. 278, September-October 1990, pp. 421-434.

HAPPOLD Matthew, “Child Soldiers in International Law: The Legal Regulation of Children’s Participation in Hostilities”, in Netherlands International Law Review, Vol. 47/1, 2000, pp. 27-52.

JESSEMAN Christine, “The Protection and Participation Rights of the Child Soldiers: An African Global Perspective”, in African Human Rights Law Journal, Vol. 1/1, 2001, pp. 140-154.

MAYSTRE Magali, Les enfants soldats en droit international : problématiques contemporaines au regard du droit international humanitaire et du droit international pénal, Paris, Pedone, 2010, 202 pp.

MERMET Joël, “Protocole facultatif à la Convention relative aux droits de l’enfant concernant l’implication d’enfants dans les conflits armés : quel progrès pour la protection des droits de l’enfant ?”, in Actualité et Droit international, June 2002, http://www.ridi.org/adi.

VANDEWIELE Tiny & ALEN André (eds), A Commentary on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Optional Protocol: the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts, Leiden, Boston, M. Nijhoff, 2006, 66 pp.

VEERMAN Philip & HEPHZIBAH Levine, “Protecting Palestinian Intifada Children: Peaceful Demonstrators, Child Soldiers or Child Martyrs?”, in The International Journal of Children’s Rights, Vol. 9/2, 2001, pp. 71-88.

“Les enfants et la guerre”, in IRRC, No. 842, June 2001, pp. 494-504.

WEBSTER Timothy, “Babes with Arms: International Law and Child Soldiers”, in George Washington International Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, 2007, pp. 228-254.

Further readings:

FALLAH Katherine, “Perpetrators and Victims: Prosecuting Children for the Commission of International Crimes, in African Journal of International and Comparative Law, T. 14, No. 1, 2006, pp. 83-103.

GACHOUD Régine, “La guerre, un jeu d’enfants ? Enfants soldats : la problématique des filles”, in African Yearbook of International Law, Vol. 14 (2006), 2008, pp. 75-123.

QUENIVET Noëlle, “Girl Soldiers and Participation in Hostilities”, in African Journal of International and Comparative Law = Revue africaine de droit international et comparé, Vol. 16, pt. 2, 2008, pp. 219-235.

SHEPPARD Ann, “Child Soldiers: Is the Optional Protocol Evidence of an Emerging ‘Straight-18’ Consensus?”, in The International Journal of Children’s Rights, Vol. 8/1, 2000, pp. 37-70.