4.7 Children

Even though under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict States Parties shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of eighteen years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces, not all States are parties to the Optional Protocol and in practice persons under the age of eighteen are subject to compulsory recruitment in many places. 

Moreover, even where call-up does not take place until the age of 18, the registration procedures can make this an issue which often or even usually affects a younger age group. A combination of rules make this particularly so in the Russian Federation. All males must register for military service by the end of March in the year when they reach 17. Applications for recognition of conscientious objector status must be made six months before receiving call-up papers. Call-up occurs in two periods each year: between April and June and between October and December. Therefore, the window of age in which an application may be submitted starts at between sixteen years and three months and seventeen years and three months. Assuming that call-up papers are normally sent between the eighteenth birthday and the beginning of the first subsequent call-up session, the maximum age at which application for recognition of conscientious objector status could be made would lie between seventeen years and six months and eighteen years to the day. In other words all applications in normal circumstances have to be made before the individual reaches the age of eighteen.

Also the Optional Protocol does not completely prohibit the voluntary recruitment of children under the age of 18. In particular the persistent methods of recruiters searching for volunteers in the USA, including among school pupils, and the pressure brought to bear on young and impressionable minds have been in themselves the source of much adverse comment in recent months, quite apart from the evidence of abuses which have emerged.

For all these reasons the provisions and rules for conscientious objection are potentially relevant for children as well as for adults. But that being the case there are specific features which require particular emphasis in the case of those aged under 18.

Although it is usual to obtain parental consent before accepting the enlistment of those under 18, there can be no guarantee, particularly where there is a history of pressure being brought to bear to encourage recruitment, particularly an emphasis on the economic benefits, (eg Paraguay) that the consent of the conscript is indeed fully and freely-exercised, let alone based on mature judgment.