Recruitment of Children as A Crime in National and International Law

Recruitment of Children as A Crime in National and International Law
Recruitment of Children as A Crime in National and International Law

Children Not Soldiers

Mohammed Abd Rabbo Nasser – Journalist and human rights activist

 Mothers used to say to their children: "War is fueled by men." Mothers directed their children not to rush in reactions, and this is a clear signal that people in the past were trying to spare their children and women the bitterness of wars, whether these wars were tribal or clan wars.

 This saying no longer exists in our current culture, especially the last twenty years, not because mothers no longer guide their children, but because the current wars no longer exclude anyone, including children, women, the elderly and civilians.

I am not here in comparing old customs and traditions with modern laws that came with the aim of regulating the state of war between the parties to the conflict, but here I tried to start this article with this old saying in order to put the reader in the image of the current conflict in Yemen, which has not only affected the high numbers of victims, but also the impact of this conflict even on the culture and values of society. While tribal conflicts were trying to spare young people from being affected by these conflicts, today children and women have become major tools in the war, in addition to being the most affected groups.

What is The Definition of a Child?

According to the Scientific Dictionary of International Humanitarian Law, a child is a person who does not possess an individual legal personality (i.e., is not recognized as an independent person before the law)

Thus, parents and relatives are entrusted with providing protection for children and defending their interests, and in the event that they fail to carry out their responsibilities towards children, social and judicial departments assume this task.

Also, a child is an individual with specific needs to be able to develop normally, both physically and mentally, and international and national laws dedicate part of their safeguards to protect the normal development of children within the context of the family and society.

Children make up 40 percent of civilians who are victims of conflict and over 50 percent of refugees and internally displaced persons. The vulnerable situation of these people has led them to be at greater risk as they are deprived of basic needs such as food, water, and medical care and otherwise abused.

The terms minor and child are not synonymous. National laws take into account that the needs of children vary according to their age, and they set different minimum legal age limits for purposes such as employment, marriage, testimony in courts, criminal responsibility, imprisonment, and recruitment into armies.

Most international law texts refer to “children” who are under a specified age rather than "minors." In general, international law considers children to be persons under the age of eighteen; in any case, international law contains specific provisions for other ages. For example, the recruitment of children under the age of fifteen into the armed forces is explicitly prohibited.

The Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 were limited to talking about children within the protection prescribed for civilian persons who have no connection to military operations. The same applies to the Declaration issued by the United Nations General Assembly in 1959 on the rights of the child. It did not refer to this category, despite the conflicts that this period witnessed. International and non-international reports in which it has been proven that children participate alongside the conflicting forces and are exploited in their conflicts. International efforts to protect children in times of armed conflict have been limited only to respecting their rights, keeping them out of the conflict, and treating them as civilians. [1]

Although the Geneva Conventions are the core and foundation of international humanitarian law, they did not explicitly prohibit the recruitment of children, and this deficiency was amended in their 1977 additional protocols, which prohibited the recruitment of children in armed conflict. The second paragraph of Article (11) of Additional Protocol I stipulates: The parties to the conflict must take all possible measures to ensure that children who have not yet reached the age of fifteen do not participate directly in armed conflicts. These parties must specifically refrain from recruiting these young people into their armed forces. It is stated that states that are involved in an international armed conflict must not allow the recruitment of their children to serve in their armed forces who have not reached the age of fifteen, even for those who have reached this age and have not yet reached the age of eighteen. The warring state must give priority to recruiting the oldest of these children, meaning that a child who has reached the age of seventeen must be recruited before the child who has reached the age of sixteen, and so on. [2]

As for non-international armed conflicts, the third paragraph of Article 4 of Additional Protocol II has emphasized the inadmissibility of recruiting children under the age of fifteen into the armed forces or armed groups. The prohibition includes both compulsory and voluntary recruitment, as well as direct and indirect participation in hostilities (Additional Protocol II, 1979).[3]

Recruitment generally means selecting individuals to fill roles in a certain social structure, either in the regular government armed forces, opposition forces, or combat groups. Recruitment should not be understood as only official recruitment; it is also every actual recruitment, even if it is not officially practiced. The important aspect of recruitment is that the child is physically in the armed forces or groups. In the text of the first paragraph of Article 1 of Additional Protocol II, the term "territory of the armed forces" is understood as a High Contracting Party, including all armed forces, including forces that may not be called regular forces under some national systems. [4]

The recruitment and use of children in military operations by the conflicting parties is one of the old methods of warfare, as it has long been associated with the establishment of wars and the equipping of armies in order to achieve victory. However, the phenomenon of children's participation in armed conflicts has, for many reasons, taken a serious and increasing trend since the beginning of the 1990s due to the prevalence of international and non-international armed conflicts.[5]

A child recruited or associated with an armed force or armed group, regardless of the tasks he is involved in, includes, but not limited to, children, boys, and girls used as warriors, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes. It does not mean only participants but also those who have previously participated directly in hostilities. When recruitment means involving children or their compulsory, forced or voluntary mobilization in any type of armed forces or armed groups.[6]

From this definition, it is possible to extract the elements that must be available in the child to fall within the concept of a child soldier or fighter, represented in the following: -

- The recruited child means both genders (males and females) who have not yet reached the age of eighteen, and this is in full accordance with what is stated in Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989

- The concept of the child includes two categories of children who are forcibly recruited and voluntarily recruited into any type of regular and irregular armed forces or armed groups.

- The direct and indirect participation of children in military operations confers on them the status of recruitment

-The activities in which a child soldier may participate in military operations are not limited, but rather are an example and are not limited to, given the multiple use by parties to the conflict of children and their exploitation to achieve their military goals.

According to UNICEF monitoring documents, between 2004 and 2007, there were 19 countries that recruited children under the age of 18. Africa has the largest number: the Central African Republic, Burundi, Congo, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Sudan.

In Asia: Myanmar, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. In the Middle East: Iraq, Iran, Israel, Palestine, and the tribes of Yemen. In Latin America, there are more than 14,000 children in Colombia. In Europe: Chechnya and Turkey.

Recruitment of Children in Yemen

The Republic of Yemen ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in April 1991 and the Optional Protocol on Children in Armed Conflict in 2007. Yemen supports the Paris Commitments on the Guidelines for the Prohibition of the Recruitment of Child Soldiers and signed the Rome Statute on December 28, 2000, without ratifying it.

According to the text of Yemeni Law No. 67 of 1991, the minimum age for compulsory or voluntary recruitment in the Yemeni armed forces is 18 years of age.

Article (149) of Law No. 45 on the Rights of the Child issued in 2002 obliges state agencies to respect the rules of international law applicable in armed conflicts related to children, provide legal protection for children, and not to recruit anyone under the age of 18 or involve them in war.

 Yemeni law defines a child as: every human being who has not exceeded eighteen years of age unless he has reached the age of majority immediately before that, Article (2). As for the age of majority, Article 59 defines it as fifteen full years if the person has reached it with full mental powers.

In September 2023, a human rights report for Myon organization revealed that “it verified 2,233 child soldiers who were directly used in the armed conflict by all parties, in 18 Yemeni governorates, during the period from July 1, 2021, to December 31, 2022.”

The report, entitled "Child Soldiers", added that the Houthi Ansar Allah group recruited a total of 2,209 children on the front lines, which represents 98.9% of the total cases covered in the report, while the internationally recognized Yemeni government and its armed formations are responsible for recruiting 24 children and involving them in armed actions, and by 1.1%, "it was verified that 18 of them are the children of military leaders whose tasks are limited to accompanying those leaders, while only 6 children are involved in the front lines and checkpoints."

The report indicated that 75% of the total children recruited by the Houthi group during the reporting period, which is 1,660 children, were killed and injured during their participation in armed acts. The organization verified the killing of 1,309 children, including a Somali child, and the injury of 351 other children."

In a statement published by Sam organization on its website in May last year, the organization said that Sam's field team monitored the recruitment of (11310) children in (19) governorates since 2014, including (6269) children aged (8-11) years, (580) children aged (12-14) years and (4461) children aged (15-17) years, adding that according to the order of governorates, Hajjah governorate comes in the forefront of the governorates with (1875), followed by Sana'a governorate with (1734) and Dhamar governorate with (1585), while Taiz governorate, which is divided between the parties to the conflict, comes in fourth place with (1124) and then the capital governorate with (1097).

In a UN report submitted to the UN Security Council and published in January 2022, UN experts said they had a list of 1,406 children between the ages of 10 and 17, who were recruited by the Houthis and died in the war in 2020.

As for the reasons behind this phenomenon in the Yemeni situation, a report by Mwatana Organization for Human Rights revealed that the deteriorating economic conditions is a major reason for recruiting children. Poverty pushes some Yemeni families to recruit their children for a source of income that provides the minimum necessary survival needs or improves the limited source of income for them. In some cases, children go to recruitment on their own as a result of poverty and the collective need of the family, or to obtain what meets their personal needs that the family could not provide.

 The report shows that (40.7%) of the respondents reported that economic reasons are the main reason behind their involvement in recruitment, and (37.8%) of the same sample said that social reasons such as customs, traditions and negative habits are the reason behind recruitment, while (14.1%) believe that doctrinal loyalty and party affiliation were the reason for their recruitment, and psychological determinants come as the weakest reasons influencing the recruitment of children represented by psychological tendencies to carry weapons or imitate adults involved in fighting in some social environments by (7.4%).

In the same context, the impact of the reasons for recruiting children varies among the parties to the conflict. Economic reasons play a role in recruiting for Ansar Allah (the Houthis) relatively less than the role played by social reasons. The opposite is true for the national army of the internationally recognized government, the forces loyal to it, the forces of the UAE-backed Southern Transitional Council, in addition to the brigades of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the joint forces led by Tariq Saleh. What explains this disparity in the impact of economic reasons is that the economic expectations of the family and the child behind recruitment in the ranks of those parties are relatively higher than the expectations associated with recruitment for the benefit of Ansar Allah (the Houthis), so the latter rely on intensive recruitment activity using social influence in different forms, and on ideological/political determinants more than the rest of the recruiters, with the exception of Ansar al-Sharia, which recruits children mainly for ideological reasons.

Recruitment of children violates the natural system of their development in life through education and choosing the future, away from early involvement in the tools of violence and killing and participation in committing crimes carried out by armed groups outside the law, and with ideological agendas of different directions, and most of all, the effects of recruitment on children themselves and on society, need many efforts and a long time to get rid of their multiple effects, especially health, social and economic as well.

Children are not the only victims for recruitment, nor their parents who suffer and their suffering increases with time, but society as a whole, because today and in the future, they will be victims of a crime with far-reaching effects, which is continued by other people and groups who do not care about humans.




Through what has been addressed in this article, we submit to you a number of recommendations to the relevant authorities at the local and international levels to eliminate the phenomena of recruiting children and involving them in armed conflict:

  • Preventing the recruitment of additional children into armed conflict through strong national legal procedures based on international child rights standards and the Protocol on the Prevention of the Recruitment of Children into Armed Conflict, as well as prosecuting those who violate these standards
  • In addition, programs have been established by professionals in psychology, sociology, psychiatry, counseling, psychological and educational assistance to accommodate children who have participated in military operations or have been victims of violence in order to reintegrate and rehabilitate them.
  • Civil society organizations must also play an effective role in reducing this phenomenon by raising awareness of society and establishing programs in support of the reform processes that the government must carry out, and benefiting from international experiences in reducing the phenomenon of child recruitment in armed conflicts and addressing extremism.
  • Ensure that all armed groups immediately stop recruiting children, release all children under the age of 18 from service, and ensure that they have access to rehabilitation programs.
  • Integration of national legislation with international treaties, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols
  • Facilitate the immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance to children and other civilians in need
  • Hold perpetrators accountable for all violations and abuses against children, including investigations, prosecutions, trial and conviction where necessary.


[1]Etisam Al-Abdul Wahibi: The crime of recruiting children and involving them in armed conflicts in light of the provisions of international humanitarian law – Analytical study – Journal of the University of Aden for Human Sciences 2021

[2]Etisam Al-Abdul Wahibi: The Crime of Recruiting Children and involving them in armed conflicts in light of the provisions of international humanitarian law –Analytical study–Journal of the University of Aden for Human Sciences 2021

[3] - Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions

[4] - (Nahari Nasira _ Recruitment of Children in Internal Wars_Master's thesis, University of Oran, Algeria, 2014)

[5] - Al-Obaidi, Bushra Suleiman Hussein International Criminal Violations of Children's Rights_ Lebanon 2009

[6]Previous reference.

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