Child soldiering refers to the recruitment and utilisation of children under the age of 18 by government forces or paramilitaries in armed conflicts as either direct combatants or auxiliary forces. The Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child II requires states that are party to it to “take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities”. The Protocol differs from the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified Convention in the international sphere, which states in Article 38 that children must be in excess of (only) 15 years old. According to UNICEF, there are approximately 300,000 children serving as combatants as of 2006, allegedly fewer with the ending of several major hostilities. An additional 500,000 serve in the auxiliary forces as porters, cleaners, other supporting roles and, frequently in the case of females, for sexual gratification/. A 2012 report by the UN Secretary-General listed 32 parties as habitual perpetrators of violations of children’s rights, of which 7 are government forces. An absence of conclusive facts has hindered knowledge of the prevalence of recruitment throughout these parties, but official and non-official reports frequently allege and prove recruitment within these official forces or armed factions, of which there is an overrepresentation in Africa and Asia.
Legal Responses to Child Soldiers
Inter-Governmental Organisations and Documents of International Law
The effectiveness of legal responses will be rendered most visible in the actions of Inter-Governmental Organisations, the legal documents such organisations construct and state adherence to human rights documents pertaining to child soldiers. The International Convention on the Rights of the Child places the minimum legal age of soldiers at 15 years, of which 192 nations are members. Currently 147 states are signatories to the Optional Protocol attached to the convention, which sets a minimum age of 18 years, known commonly internationally as a ‘straight-18 ban’, a safeguard against recruitment derived from ‘force or coercion’. In 2001, one year after the Protocol was adopted, some 70 states adhered to the ‘straight-18’ provision through domestic law, currently in the vicinity of 100. All but 8 of the 54 member states of the African Union (AU) have ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, that states that signatories take all necessary measures under Article 22 to ensure that under 18s are not involved in direct conflict if assumed into armed forces. As opposed to findings revealing the use of child soldiers in 25 national armies of world states, findings for 2012 reveal use of children in less than 10, due to lessened hostilities but also an increase in adherence to guidelines./The NGO Child Soldiers International argues that effective strategies depend on the development and application of tools to analyse the risks facing children whether that state is or is not currently experiencing armed conflict. The UN Security council has clearly taken a stance on the issue through a series of resolutions both condemning the recruitment and use of child soldiers in hostilities and offering alternate action plans. Such actions provide binding international precedent for future inter-governmental action, demonstrate the relationship between different legal institutions, and allow the international community to be sanguine of future Security Council responses to the issue.
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court established the first treaty based permanent international criminal court in 1998. As of March 14 2012, the Court handed down its first verdict, finding Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of recruiting child soldiers and incarcerating the convicted for a further eight years after six already spent in imprisonment. Despite being a...