2.4.2 Age

Table 5, which has already been referred to in the context of reserve obligations, gives an overview of various age provisions relating to military service, in roughly chronological order from left to right.[1]

The first column refers to compulsory military training in schools. The second, by contrast, deals with training programmes, attached to educational establishments, which although themselves voluntary can count towards the fulfilment of the obligatory military service requirement.

The third column C introduces the question of enrolment in military training establishments as the final step in the education process. This is a very complicated area (see box) which, like the issue of military training in the normal school curriculum, deserves much more detailed study than it has yet received.

Military Schools and the Military in schools

The phrase military schools is problematic because it is clear that it is used in different countries to refer to an exceptionally wide variety of establishments. In some countries these are higher education institutions to which are admitted persons who have finished their normal schooling and have committed themselves to pursue a military career. In others they are a part of the normal education system but with a curriculum which focusses heavily on military training and an expectation that students will proceed to join the military, or they are schools which take students from relatively young ages and which just happen to be answerable to the military authorities. The question of whether students are members of the armed forces produces similar confusion; in some countries the authorities insist that students of establishments of the first kind do not become members of the armed forces until they have completed their training, in others all students - even at ages of 10 or younger - are formally considered to be members of the armed forces.

Quite outside the question of specific military schools is the role of schools in the general militarisation of society. A national programme, like that entitled  soldados por un día  (soldiers for a day) in Colombia can reinforce and make natural the central role of the military in society. Even where not compulsory, military training in schools can be used as a recruitment tool. The website of the Ministry of Education and Culture in the United Arab Emirates (quoted in the Child Soldiers Global Report) refers to the ultimate aim of inculcating values of patriotism, self-denial and readiness to defend one's country in students and thus motivate them to take up military careers after completing their basic general education. Voluntary uniformed military activity outside the formal school curriculum can also be used as a means of attracting particularly potential officers to military careers; the Officer Training Corps in the UK and the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps in the USA are examples of this.

There follows the normal minimum recruitment age for volunteers, followed by the age of full incorporation into active units. In all but the most egregious cases, recruitment is followed by a period of training; by distinguishing these two sets of figures and attempt is made to ensure that like is compared to like despite different styles of reporting. The next refers to the possibility already mentioned on page 10, where volunteers may perform their obligatory military service early. In some cases, there is a correspondingly younger age limit.

Then the following two columns list the normal ages for registration and call-up for obligatory military service.  

Sometimes the legal requirement to register is closely related to actual age; in the USA, for instance, it is described as during the sixty days beginning thirty days before the eighteenth anniversary of their birth; in El Salvador registration is to take place within a month of the 17th birthday. The age for registration, and even more often that for call-up, is, however, frequently expressed with reference to the calendar year of birth, and other deadline dates may insert further confusion. To take a few of examples at random, in Estonia registration must take place by the 1st December, in Russia by the 31st March, of the year of the 17th birthday, while in Chile the relevant dates are 2nd January to 30th September of the year of the 18th birthday.

The way in which these provisions are reported may create apparent contradictions between different sources. Thus on the basis of the same facts, the age of military service in Brazil has been variously quoted as 17, 18 and 19. The precise situation is that, after pre-registration, actual call-up takes effect on the 1st January on the year of the nineteenth birthday. Therefore, in this case, as obligatory military service lasts for twelve months, all conscripts (deferrals apart) commence military service at the age of 18 and complete it at the age of 19. In the Table, when the legislation refers to calendar dates (typically the year within which a certain birthday falls) two ages are given; some recruits will personally be at the younger, some at the older age at the actual time of registration or induction.

Where voluntary recruitment is permitted at an age below 18, parental approval is usually required. This rule sometimes varies to reflect the legal age of majority; in Tunisia parental approval is required up to the age of 20; in Guinea-Bissau parental assent for recruitment is required only below the age of 16. Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights on the Child on children in armed conflict, persons aged under 18 may not be deployed in hostilities. Canada, which recruits under-18s, has enacted legislation to put this into practice in conjunction with ratifying the Protocol.

In most cases, (Turkey is an exception) the law stipulates maximum as well as minimum military ages, and the most common forms of such stipulations are given in the final three columns. In practice, the maximum recruitment age may be lower. For instance in Sweden any person who has been allocated to military or civilian service but has not been called up for basic training before the end of the year of the 24th birthday will not be called up: that person is obliged to fulfil basic training only if there are special reasons for doing so.[2]

  • [1] Except where otherwise indicated, all the information in this Section comes from the Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 (Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, London)
  • [2] Act on Liability for Total Defence Service, Paragraph 4.2