Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict

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Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict
Signed 25 May 2000[1]
Location New York[1]
Effective 12 February 2002[1]
Condition 10 ratifications
Signatories 129[1]
Parties 156[1]
Depositary UN Secretary-General[2]
Languages Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish
Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict at Wikisource

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict is an international treaty whereby states agree to (1) prohibit the conscription into the military of children under the age of 18 and (2) ensure that military volunteers under the age of 18 are exempted from taking a direct part in hostilities. The United Nations General Assembly adopted the treaty as a supplementary protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by resolution 54/263 on 25 May 2000.[3] The protocol came into force on 12 February 2002. The protocol requires that ratifying governments ensure that while their armed forces can accept volunteers below the age of 18, they cannot be conscripted and "States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities".[4] Non-state actors and guerrilla forces are forbidden from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose. As of May 2014, 156 states are party to the protocol and another 17 states have signed but not ratified it.[1]

ICRC commentary[edit]

The sentence "States Parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities" was adapted from Article 77.2 of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, adopted in 1977, with an alteration from fifteen years to eighteen years and some other minor modifications. ("The Parties to the conflict shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces.")

The ICRC commentary on Protocol I makes clear that it does not require a complete ban on the use of children in conflict. The ICRC had suggested that the Protocol require parties to "take all necessary measures;" however, the final text instead uses the wording "take all feasible measures" which is not a total prohibition on their doing so. Furthermore, refraining from recruiting children under fifteen does not exclude children who volunteer for armed service. During the negotiations over the clause "take a part in hostilities," the word "direct" was added opening up the possibility that child volunteers could be involved indirectly in hostilities, gathering and transmitting military information, helping in the transportation of arms and munitions, provision of supplies, etc.[5]

National responses[edit]

The United Kingdom, which recruits citizens into the army who are under 18, clarified its position in an explanatory memorandum, stating that "whilst Army personnel under the age of 18 may continue to undertake a limited range of duties with resident units in Northern Ireland, they do not participate in activities in direct support of the civil powers; UK military personnel under the age of 18 are not deployed as aircrew; and in line with UN policy, personnel under the age of 18 are not deployed on UN peacekeeping operations".[6]

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