Military Training and Children in Armed Conflict: Law, Policy, and Practice

By Jenny Kuper | Go to book overview
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Part 1 (A)(1)—Law and Policy: Content
of Rules Relevant to Officer Training
Regarding Children—Child Soldiers1


Having considered in Chapter Three the main international law principles pertinent to military training as regards child civilians, it is now relevant to look at those provisions concerning child soldiers. Child soldiers are discussed below in two categories: a) child soldiers as combatants; and b) captured child soldiers.

Large numbers of child soldiers—estimated in 2001 at over 300,000 under 18s at any one time2—participate in armed conflicts worldwide, although in most cases such participation is contrary to, and explicitly prohibited by, both national and international law.

As regards child soldiers within national armed forces, such soldiers are generally those aged 15–17, since it remains lawful (although in contravention of the current higher standard) to incorporate this age-group in national armed forces, depending on the applicable legal regime in the particular country (see discussion below). However, some national armed forces may in fact unlawfully use child soldiers under the age of 15, as do many armed opposition groups.

It is commonly assumed that child soldiers (and to a lesser extent adult soldiers) are predominantly male, but in fact there are many girls who become 'soldiers' and who fulfil a multiplicity of roles in some armed forces, and particularly in armed opposition groups.3 This has implications for the training of officers of national armed forces. For example, it requires that: a) officers and soldiers should be sensitised to avoid gratuitous discrimination against girls in all areas of military life, from recruitment to demobilisation; b) the particular health needs of girl soldiers generally, including those who are captured and detained, should be provided for, and c) rules regarding sexual conduct should be reiterated. As regards the latter, sexual abuse of child soldiers (which can include males as well as females) is apparently widespread in some armed forces,4 although it is legally prohibited.5

It is also sometimes assumed that child soldiers can quite easily be identified as such—an impression fuelled by media images of very small children carrying large


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