There is wide acceptance that the minimum age at which an individual should be permitted to join government armed forces is 18 years. Today, almost two thirds of UN members states have established in law or otherwise committed to a minimum military recruitment age of 18 years. With very few exceptions, states have adopted 18 years as the minimum age for conscription.

There are, however, a diminishing number of states which, contrary to best practice, still permit the voluntary recruitment of under-18s. According to the latest available information 17 year olds can enlist in the armed forces of Algeria, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Brunei, Cape Verde, Chile, China, Cuba, Cyprus, France, Germany, Israel, Jamaica, Lebanon, Malaysia, Malta, Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia, and the USA.

States which continue to permit the voluntary recruitment at the lower age of 16 years are: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, El Salvador, India, Iran, Ireland, Jordan, Mauritania, Mexico, Pakistan (with exception of aero-technicians, see below), Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom, and Zambia. In a few states there is no minimum age or it has been set below 16 years. Such states include Barbados, Guinea Bissau, Guyana, Pakistan (aero-technicians only), and the Seychelles.

States which permit under-18s to join their armed forces, even if only for training purposes, put in jeopardy the well-being of children and deny them rights to which they are entitled. Critically, they also put them at increased risk of use in armed conflict: as our research shows, where states recruit individuals below the age of 18 years, prohibitions on participation in hostilities (even when supported by systems to screen troops prior to deployment) do not constitute an effective guarantee against child soldier use.

Our work aims to:

  • Build increased momentum towards 18 as the universal minimum age for conscription and enlistment by state armed forces.
  • Bring about change in selected countries, beginning with the United Kingdom, through campaigns for legal reform to raise the age of voluntary recruitment to a minimum of 18 years.
  • Provide research, analysis and concrete recommendations to states and other key stakeholders on practical measures needed to enforce minimum recruitment ages, including effective age verification procedures and independent monitoring regimes.
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