United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 136. Recruitment of Child Soldiers
The US Field Manual (1956) reproduces Article 50 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV.
The US Child Soldiers Accountability Act (2008) amends Chapter 118 of Title 18 of the United States Code as follows:
“§ 2442. Recruitment … of child soldiers
“(a) OFFENSE.—Whoever knowingly–
“(1) recruits, enlists, or conscripts a person to serve while such person is under 15 years of age in an armed force or group;
knowing such person is under 15 years of age, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
“(b) PENALTY.—Whoever violates, or attempts or conspires to violate, subsection (a) shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both and, if death of any person results, shall be fined under this title and imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
“(d) DEFINITIONS.—In this section:
“(2) ARMED FORCES OR GROUP.—The term ‘armed force or group’ means any army, militia, or other military organization, whether or not it is state-sponsored, excluding any group assembled solely for non-violent political association.”
In 1996, during a debate in the UN Security Council on the situation in Liberia, the United States denounced the practice of recruiting children for combat and called it an “abhorrent practice”.
According to the Report on US Practice, “Articles 4, 5 and 6 [of the 1977 Additional Protocol II] reflect general US policy on treatment of persons in the power of an adverse party in armed conflicts governed by common Article 3” of the 1949 Geneva Conventions.
In 2005, in its third periodic report to the Human Rights Committee, the United States stated: “Under U.S. law, in order to serve in any branch of the U.S. military, a person must be at least 18 years of age, or at least 17 years of age and have parental consent.”
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 States stated:
18. Article 2 [of the Optional Protocol] prohibits States Parties from forcibly or compulsorily recruiting into military service anyone under 18. The United States does not permit compulsory recruitment of any person under 18 for any type of military service.
20. Article 3(1) obliges States Parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into their national armed forces from 15 years, which is the minimum age provided in Article 38(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and in Article 77(2) of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. The United States expressed the following understanding in order to clarify the nature of the obligation it assumed under Article 3(1):
The United States understands that Article 3 obliges States Parties to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into their national armed forces from the current international standard of age 15.
21. Article 3(1) states that in raising the age for voluntary recruitment States Parties shall “take account” of the “principles” contained in Article 38(3) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and recognize that persons under the age of 18 are entitled to special protection. In this regard, Article 38(3) states that “[i]n recruiting among those persons who have attained the age of fifteen years but who have not attained the age of eighteen years, States Parties shall endeavour to give priority to those who are oldest.” This provision is compatible with the long-standing U.S. practice of permitting 17-year-olds, but not those who are younger, to volunteer for service in the Armed Forces. The Department of Defense goal is that at least 90% of new recruits should have high school diplomas, but many enlistment contracts are signed with high school seniors who may be as young as 17. While waiting for graduation, these individuals are placed in the Delayed Entry Program. Most of these individuals turn 18 before graduating from high school and shipping to basic training. Of the nearly 175,000 new enlistees each year, only about 7,500 (just over 4%) are 17 when they ship to basic training, and nearly all of those (80%) will turn 18 while in training. At no time since 1982 has the percentage of 17-year-old recruits into the Armed Forces exceeded 8%. Qualified 17-year-olds will remain an integral part of the U.S. military’s recruiting efforts into the foreseeable future, but it is not expected that their numbers will fluctuate significantly, or dominate the Armed Forces’ recruiting pool. No one under age 17 is eligible for recruitment, including for participation in the Delayed Entry Program.
In May 2008, in a joint press briefing given in Geneva by the US Ambassador-at-Large and Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and by the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Detainee Affairs, Department of Defense, the Defense representative stated:
[W]e recognize it is unfortunate that people [children] are being … recruited into the armed forces. The U.S. government takes a leading role worldwide in trying to stop child soldiering. We’ve spent more than $10 million on reintegration programs and programs to stop recruiting of child soldiers. We’ve spent more than $24 million in trying to prevent children from being recruited into armed forces and providing other employment opportunities. This is something the U.S. takes very seriously.