Dictionary of Gross Human Rights Violations

Conscripting and Enlisting Children, the War Crime of

The use, conscription, and enlisting of children under the age of fifteen is a war crime. This includes conscripting children into “national armed forces” or otherwise using children in combat (whether it is a state army or a non-state armed group). It is prohibited by Article 8 (2) (b) (international armed conflicts) and Article 8 (2) (e) (non-international armed conflicts) of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court; Article 77 (2) of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions; and Article 38 (2) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC).

There is also an Optional Protocol to the CRC elaborating on the prohibition on the use of child soldiers.  Moreover, the Optional Protocol prohibits the conscription of children under the age of eighteen. If children between the ages of fifteen and eighteen are enlisted, priority is to be given to the enlistment of older children. It should also be noted that even though the conscription and enlisting of children is illegal, if children become soldiers they are still entitled to the full protection offered by international humanitarian law to combatants. Moreover, although children may be enlisted (not conscripted) between the ages of fifteen and seventeen they are still entitled to the special protection offered children under international human rights law, and they are not to be placed in combat roles.

In 2006 Thomas Lubanga Dyilo was indicted at the International Criminal Court and charged with enlisting children in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Lubanga was the leader of the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) in Ituri province in the eastern DRC. Lubanga enlisted (often through coercion) children in the regions that the UPC controlled. On the 29th of January, 2007 the charges against Lubanga were confirmed by Pre-Trial Chamber I.