State armed forces are the officially recognised military organisation of a state. Under international law, state armed forces can enlist children as “volunteer” recruits from the age of 16, but they cannot use them in violent conflict until age 18. The good news is that most states have opted into the relevant law and approximately two-thirds of states worldwide have raised their minimum enlistment age to 18.

However, not all states have adopted the relevant law and those that have do not always abide by it, so for example some state armed forces - for example, Sudan, Myanmar and Yemen - are known to use children in war. Many state armed forces continue to recruit children – whether unwittingly or intentionally – which puts them at undue risk and jeopardises their human rights.

Our impact

Our research into state armed forces’ exploitation of children, Louder than Words concluded that the international community should commit to preventing all child recruitment, not only the use of children in hostilities.

In 2010 Child Soldiers International began a campaign to end child recruitment by the British armed forces. So far, the campaign has won a legal right of discharge for all child recruits, and we continue to call for an end to all child recruitment in the UK, which unlike all other countries in Europe still recruits from age 16.

In Chad, we successfully lobbied for the draft Child Protection Code to set 18 as the minimum age for enlistment and we supported the government to implement its UN-sponsored Action Plan to end child recruitment.

In Thailand, we successfully called for regulatory changes to ensure a minimum recruitment age of 18 for the government’s village defence militias.

What should be done?

Implementing a minimum enlistment age of 18 for all state armed forces is an essential step towards ending the military exploitation of children globally. Child Soldiers International is continuing its work to achieve a “Global Straight-18” position through advocacy and legal challenges.

It remains a priority to enforce existing minimum age limits for the recruitment and use of children in war. We are working with governments in our priority countries to ensure that national and international legal standards are met, and with international agencies, the military and donors to add pressure where it is needed. We are also monitoring UN-sponsored government Action Plans to end child recruitment, in order to hold governments to account on their commitments.

Photo © Kiana Hayeri/Child Soldiers International