United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 137. Participation of Child Soldiers in Hostilities
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states in its chapter on the protection of civilians in the hands of a party to the conflict:
Steps must be taken to ensure that those aged under fifteen years are not recruited into the armed forces and do not take a direct part in hostilities. … If children under fifteen years do take a direct part in hostilities, they do not lose the protection of this paragraph even if they are also classified as prisoners of war. 
United Kingdom, The Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, Ministry of Defence, 1 July 2004, § 9.9.1.

15.7. It is prohibited to conscript or enlist “children under the age of fifteen years into armed forces or groups” or to use them “to participate actively in hostilities”.
15.7.1. Recent internal conflicts, particularly in West Africa, have been marked by the recruitment, arming and deployment on military missions of children, many of whom have been involved in the commission of atrocities. Such recruitment and use is a war crime under the Rome Statute [of the International Criminal Court]. 
United Kingdom, The Manual of the Law of Armed Conflict, Ministry of Defence, 1 July 2004, §§ 15.7–15.7.1.

Under the UK ICC Act (2001), it is a punishable offence to commit a war crime as defined in Article 8(2)(b)(xxvi) and (e)(vii) of the 1998 ICC Statute. 
United Kingdom, ICC Act, 2001, Sections 50(1) and 51(1) (England and Wales) and Section 58(1) (Northern Ireland).

In 2000, in a declaration made upon signature of the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and confirmed upon ratification in 2003, the United Kingdom stated:
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will take all feasible measures to ensure that members of its armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities.
The United Kingdom understands that article 1 of the Optional Protocol would not exclude the deployment of members of its armed forces under the age of 18 to take a direct part in hostilities where:-
a) there is a genuine military need to deploy their unit or ship to an area in which hostilities are taking place; and
b) by reason of the nature and urgency of the situation:-
In 2003, in a written reply to questions in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for International Development stated:
International humanitarian law, as embodied in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, prohibits the recruitment or use of children under 15 in armed conflict and provides for the protection of children, particularly those separated from their families. The Statute of the International Criminal Court, to which the UK is a state party and which has been incorporated into national law, makes the recruitment and/or use of children under 15 a war crime.
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, now enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998, forbids the use of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment which may include the forcing of children to take part in hostilities.
The UK is a Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which makes particular provision for the protection of all children under 18 years. It prescribes that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration, severely restricts the circumstances in which children may be removed from their parents and protects children against arbitrary interference with their privacy and liberty. This Convention, along with International Labour Organisation Convention 182 (which the UK has ratified), prohibits the use of children in the worst forms of labour; and Convention 182 specifically prohibits the forced or compulsory recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.
The UK expects to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict later this year. This provides that states parties must take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a direct part in hostilities, and that children under 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces. Non-state actors, such as insurgent groups, are prohibited from ever recruiting or using in hostilities children under 18. We take the Protocol seriously. That is why before we ratify, we need to be clear that the detailed procedures and administrative guidelines for the armed forces are finalised. These will give concrete form to our commitment. MOD [Ministry of Defence] officials, in consultation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, are in the final stages of drafting an Explanatory Memorandum which will explain the steps being taken to meet that commitment. As part of the ratification process, we will lay the Explanatory Memorandum (EM) before Parliament. This does not require any changes to UK legislation.
The UK has many laws that prohibit the activities usually associated with the use of child soldiers, such as assault, forcing a child to perform illegal acts, deprivation of their liberty and making children take harmful drugs and alcohol.

The most effective way of tackling the use of child soldiers is to prevent, reduce and resolve armed conflicts. This is part of the wider issue of the impact of armed conflict on children generally, their families and communities. In addressing this, my Department is working with other UK Government Departments and other governments through appropriate regional mechanisms, the non-governmental community and the multilateral system to this end. UNICEF, with the support of my Department and other governments, works to effect the disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation of child soldiers, particularly back into the community and prevent their re-recruitment. Through a multi-year capacity building programme supported by my Department, UNICEF are collecting data on the situation of children affected by armed conflict globally, to better inform policy, guidance and programming on the wide range of issues involved.
My Department has also been supporting the work of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, whose work (primarily of advocacy and raising awareness of the issues at all levels) features prominently in the Secretary-General’s report of 26 November 2002 to the Security Council on this issue.
Through its representation on the Security Council, the Government have been closely involved in the passing of eight resolutions since August 1999 addressing the issue of child soldiers and other children affected by armed conflict, and are currently involved in negotiations for a further resolution to strengthen the ability of the international community to take action to prevent the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts. Along with the vast majority of other states, the Government have also ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and is taking steps to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention preventing the use of children in armed conflict. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written answers by the Secretary of State for International Development, Hansard, 30 January 2003, Vol. 398, Written Answers, cols. 965W–966W.

In 2003, in a written ministerial statement in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
Officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence have completed all the necessary work to enable the Government to proceed to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
We intend to complete the ratification process with the United Nations as soon as possible. To begin the formal process, I have today laid before Parliament an Explanatory Memorandum which explains the steps taken to meet our commitment to the provisions of the Protocol.
In particular, since 1 September 2002 Army personnel under 18 are no longer routinely deployed on operations outside the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, although they may continue to participate in purely humanitarian missions where no hostile forces are involved. Furthermore, all three Services now have procedures in place to ensure that, wherever it is feasible to do so without undermining operational effectiveness or the safety of personnel, under 18s are removed from their units when there is deemed to be a greater than low risk of direct involvement in hostilities. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written ministerial statement by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hansard, 24 February 2003, Vol. 400, Written Ministerial Statements, col. 8WS.

In 2006, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning UN Security Council resolution 1612, the UK Minister of State for Trade, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
UN Security Council resolution 1612 deals with the recruitment of child soldiers, and calls for the monitoring of this practice in a number of countries including, Sri Lanka. Officials regularly make clear that the use of child soldiers in Sri Lanka cannot be tolerated and will continue to make such representations. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has identified the rights of the child as one of its top three human rights priorities. The UK has supported the establishment of a UN monitoring and reporting mechanism on children affected by armed conflict and is actively involved in the UN Security Council working group on children and armed conflict. We welcome the efforts of the UN Secretary-General’s special representative on children and armed conflict, and promote the ratification of the UN convention on the rights of the child and its optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written answer by the Minister of State for Trade, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hansard, 9 October 2006, Vol. 450, Written Answers, col. 458W.

In 2007, in its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child under the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the United Kingdom stated:
Introduction
1. The United Kingdom ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (the Optional Protocol) on 24 June 2003 and remains firmly committed to it. We recognize the importance of providing special treatment for young people under the age of 18 serving in the armed forces and accordingly we have robust and effective safeguards in place to ensure they are cared for properly and are not placed unnecessarily at risk. Every feasible step is taken in accordance with our obligations to prevent the involvement of young people under the age of 18 (under 18s) in hostilities.
2. The Government’s understanding of its obligations is clarified by the interpretive declaration it made upon signature and confirmed upon ratification. This made clear that the British Armed Forces would continue to recruit from age 16 but included a clear commitment to take all feasible measures to ensure those who had not yet reached the age of 18 did not take a direct part in hostilities. Accordingly, administrative guidelines and procedures are now in place to ensure that, wherever practicable, personnel aged under18 are withdrawn from their units before they are deployed on operations.
3. The introduction of the new administrative guidelines and procedures have been very successful in reducing the number of under 18s who have deployed into areas where they may be exposed to hostilities, with only 18 personnel aged under 18 deployed since the Optional Protocol was signed in 2003 (all of these from the Army) and none since July 2005. The vast majority of those that were deployed were within one week of their eighteenth birthdays or were removed from theatre within a week of their arrival. Only 4 under 18s were deployed for a period of greater than two weeks, which is a remarkably small number given that the United Kingdom has deployed well over 100,000 personnel on operations during the same period.

6. The most relevant provision of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) concerns the recruitment of children aged 15 into the armed forces. This Convention predates, and was largely superseded by, the provisions of the Optional Protocol. The Government considers that the above safeguards provide sufficient protection to under 18s serving in the armed forces and that they enable the United Kingdom to comply with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including article 38, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Article 1
Participation in hostilities
7. The term “direct participation” is not used in United Kingdom legislation, as there is no relevant legislation covering this concept. In practice, it is understood that a person is taking a direct part in hostilities if they are deployed on operations where hostile forces are involved.
8. Once they have entered the armed forces, all recruits must undergo basic general military training followed by a period of more specialized professional training before joining the trained strength and thus becoming liable for employment in military operations. This training is thorough and takes time and so the number of personnel under the age of 18 on the trained strength has always over the last decade tended to be small; at 1 April 2007 it was 730 (90 Royal Navy, 630 Army and 10 Royal Air Force) which represented only 0.5 per cent of the total trained strength of the armed forces. Very few of these personnel (i.e. of those both under the age of 18 and on the trained strength) are posted to higher readiness (i.e. front line) units which are those liable to be deployed into actual combat. Therefore, the likelihood of service personnel under the age of 18 taking a direct part in hostilities is very small, even before the introduction of new protective measures which will serve to reduce the risk even further.
9. These measures include the introduction of single-service administrative guidelines and procedures … , and the newly revised and reissued Policy on the Care of Service Personnel under the Age of 18 … In addition:
- Service personnel under the age of 18 are not routinely deployed on any operations outside the United Kingdom, except where the operation does not involve personnel becoming engaged in, or exposed to, hostilities;
- Whilst Army personnel under the age of 18 may continue to undertake a limited range of duties with resident units in Northern Ireland, they do not participate in activities in direct support of the civil powers;
- Members of the Naval Service under the age of 18 are not permitted to deploy on operations in the land environment;
- Members of the Naval Service under the age of 17 are not drafted to operational ships or Royal Marine units;
- Under 18s are not deployed as aircrew;
- In line with United Nations policy, personnel under the age of 18 are not deployed on United Nations peacekeeping operations.
10. However, some units, especially ships and submarines of the Royal Navy already deployed away from the United Kingdom, may find themselves diverted at very short notice from normal peacetime duties around the world to operations in which there is a genuine risk of direct involvement in hostilities. In these circumstances, it might not always be feasible to remove or replace personnel: either because the geographic location of the vessel or unit makes their removal physically impossible, or because it would not be practicable to remove them from their units without undermining its operational effectiveness or risking the successful completion of the mission and/or the safety of other personnel. But the Government does not consider their deployment in these circumstances to be inconsistent with its obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol. The United Kingdom explained its interpretation of article 1 in the declaration it made at the time of signature. The purpose of this declaration was simply to cover such rare occurrences and is not a signal of intent to deploy under 18s contrary to the spirit and terms of the Protocol. Such instances and the numbers involved are likely to be very few, partly for the reasons set out above and also because the armed forces will continue their previous policies and practices to protect those members under the age of 18.
11. Unfortunately, our processes are not infallible and the pressures on units prior to deployment have meant that there have been instances where soldiers have been inadvertently deployed to an operational theatre before their eighteenth birthday. To prevent further occurrences, the operational location (OPLOC) system used for tracking personnel when they arrive in the operational theatre provides a warning message when someone who is under 18 is entered, and daily checks are conducted to ensure that under 18s have not entered an operational theatre.
12. As a direct result of the measures we have taken, the number of personnel under 18 deployed on operations has reduced from approximately 300 between 1999 and 2003 to only 18 since the Optional Protocol was ratified in 2003. None have been deployed since July 2005. The vast majority of those who were deployed were within one week of their eighteenth birthdays or were removed from theatre within a week of their arrival. Only four under 18s were deployed for a period of greater than two weeks. Although these procedures have proved themselves to be robust, we are investigating the scope for using new information technology (IT) systems to reduce still further the risk of unintentional deployments. None of these personnel aged under 18 was taken prisoner whilst deployed.

Article 6
Implementation and enforcement
52. We were satisfied at the time of ratification that the provisions of the Optional Protocol were already fully implemented in United Kingdom policies and procedures and therefore no amendment to legislation was required to give effect to the Protocol in domestic law. For the same reasons, no subsequent review of domestic legislation has been necessary. There are no plans to remove the reservations lodged at the time of ratification. Details of the new protective measures that have been introduced to reduce the risk of under 18s being involved in hostilities are set out in paragraphs 8 to 11 above.

60. No legal provisions criminalizing the recruitment of children have been adopted, as that is not necessary to ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of the Optional Protocol within the United Kingdom. 
United Kingdom, Initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, UN Doc. CCPR/C/OPAC/GBR/1, 3 September 2007, submitted 16 July 2007, §§ 1–3, 6–12, 52 and 60.

In 2007, in its combined third and fourth periodic reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the United Kingdom stated:
629. The United Kingdom ratified the [2000] Optional Protocol [on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict] on 24 June 2003 and remains firmly committed to it. The UK Government recognises the importance of providing special treatment for children under the age of 18 serving in the Armed Forces and the need to have robust and effective safeguards in place to ensure they are not placed unnecessarily at risk.
630. The UK Government made a further declaration upon ratification relating to the involvement of under 18s in hostilities. This included a clear commitment to take all feasible measures to ensure those who had not yet reached the age of 18 years old do not take a direct part in hostilities. Accordingly, administrative guidelines and procedures are now in place to ensure that, wherever practicable, under 18s are withdrawn from their units before they are deployed on operations. The introduction of these guidelines have been successful in reducing the number of under 18s who have deployed into areas where they may be exposed to hostilities, with only eighteen children (aged under 18) deployed since the Optional Protocol was signed in 2003 (all of these from the Army) and none since July 2005. The vast majority of those that were deployed were within one week of their eighteenth birthdays or were removed from theatre within a week of their arrival. Only four under 18s were deployed for a period of greater than two weeks compared to well over 100,000 adult personnel deployed by the UK on operations during the same period. The declaration also set out a number of exceptional and well-defined circumstances in which it might not be feasible to prevent the direct involvement of under 18s in hostilities. There are no plans to withdraw this declaration. 
United Kingdom, Third and fourth periodic reports to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 25 February 2008, UN Doc. CRC/C/GBR/4, submitted 16 July 2007, §§ 629–630.

In 2007, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We have been seriously concerned by reports that have criticised parties to the Sri Lanka conflict including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Karuna faction for the recruitment and use of child soldiers in violation of applicable international law. We deplore this practice: there can be no excuse for failing to observe such basic human rights. The UK is a member of the UN Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. We fully support the Working Group’s conclusions of 13 June 2007, which strongly condemned the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers and all other violations and abuses committed against children by the LTTE and the Karuna faction and called for an immediate end to these practices. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written answer by the Minister of State for Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hansard, 29 October 2007, Vol. 465, Written Answers, cols. 825W–826W.

In 2008, in its written replies to the issues raised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child with regard to the UK’s initial report under the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, the UK stated:
The interpretive declaration made by the United Kingdom (UK) [on Article 1 of the 2000 Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict] included a clear commitment to take all feasible measures to ensure members of the Armed Forces who have not yet reached the age of 18 years old do not take a direct part in hostilities. Accordingly, administrative guidelines and procedures are in place to ensure that under-18s are withdrawn before their units are deployed on operations. There are no plans to withdraw or amend the declaration. 
United Kingdom, Written replies from the Government of the United Kingdom to the Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning the list of issues to be taken up in connection with the initial report of the United Kingdom under the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, 4 September 2008, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/GBR/Q/1/Add.1, submitted 1 September 2008, § 1.

In 2009, in response to a question in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Defence wrote:
There are no plans to review the operation of the interpretative declaration on article 1 of the [2000] Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Government policy is that Service Personnel under the age of 18 are not routinely deployed on operations outside the UK. The exception to this is where the operation does not involve personnel becoming engaged in or exposed to hostilities, such as disaster relief. The MOD [Ministry of Defence] believes that its policies on under 18s are robust and compliant with national and international law. We remain fully committed to meeting our obligations under the [Optional Protocol to the] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. 
United Kingdom, House of Commons, Written Statement by the Secretary of State for Defence, Hansard, 13 October 2009, Vol. 497, Written Statements, col. 795W.