The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) was adopted in 2000, raising the minimum age for participation in armed conflict, and most forms of military recruitment, to 18 for the first time in international law. 

Child Soldiers International, then known as the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, was the driving force behind the drafting and adoption of OPAC. Before this treaty came into force, the military recruitment and deployment of children was routine. Today, it is an aberration. We are proud of all that has been achieved in this respect since the adoption of OPAC, but the battle isn’t over yet. We invite you to join us to finish the job. 

On 21 February 2018, we will be marking OPAC’s 18th birthday with an international event in New York.  At the 18th anniversary event we intend to draw together the lessons learned, celebrate progress made since OPAC came into force, and draw together the leading specialists on child recruitment. Together, we believe we can set the future agenda to prevent all forms of military exploitation of children, permanently.

Over the next twelve months we will be counting down to 21 February 2018 with a series of initiatives to prevent child recruitment, in law and practice, worldwide. We look forward to your support. 

Further information will be circulated in due course. In the interim, please contact Isabelle Guitard, Director of Programmes, at [email protected] with any queries.

More information:

Since OPAC was adopted in 2000, 167 out of 197 states (85%) have ratified it. The Central African Republic is the latest state to have ratified the treaty, on 21 September 2017.

Out of 167 states parties to OPAC, 121 (73%) have now committed to a “straight-18” ban on military recruitment.

The remaining 30 states*, that are not states parties to OPAC, are:

  • Signed but not yet ratified (12): Fiji, Gambia, Haiti, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Lebanon, Liberia, Myanmar, Nauru, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Suriname, Zambia
  • Taken no action (18): Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Comoros, Cook Islands, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sao Tome and Principe, South Sudan, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Arab Emirates

Seventeen states (whether they have ratified OPAC or not) have a minimum enlistment age of 16 (the lowest acceptable age under OPAC): Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, El Salvador, Guinea-Bissau, India, Iran, Mauritania, Mexico, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Tonga, the United Kingdom and Zambia.

In December 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for the first time officially called on all states to raise the age of recruitment into their armed forces to 18. This call demonstrates that child rights experts believe that states have an obligation to protect children from military recruitment due to the ‘associated risk and harm'.

* Most of the states that have not signed or ratified OPAC either do not have armed forces at all, or are small countries with small armed forces.