United States of America
Practice Relating to Rule 135. Children
Section A. Special protection
The US Field Manual (1956) reproduces Articles 23, 24, 38, 50 and 89 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV.
The US Air Force Pamphlet (1976) states: “Children under 15 … enjoy the same preferential treatment provided for the nationals of the state concerned.”
The US Naval Handbook (1995) provides: “Children are entitled to special respect and protection.”
In 1987, the Deputy Legal Adviser of the US Department of State affirmed: “We support … the principle that … children be the object of special respect and protection.”
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. The report also notes: “It is the opinio juris
of the US that persons detained in connection with an internal armed conflict are entitled to humane treatment as specified in Articles 4, 5 and 6 [of the 1977 Additional Protocol II].”
On 8 May 2006, the US Delegation to the Committee against Torture responded orally to questions regarding US obligations under the 1985 Convention against Torture. On a question concerning juveniles detained at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba, the US Department of Defense Legal Adviser responded:
With respect to Madame Belmir’s question about juveniles detained at Guantanamo and the reason for their detention, there are currently no juvenile detainees at Guantanamo … Let me briefly speak about the conditions of detention we provided them while at Guantanamo. After medical tests determined their ages, they were housed in a separate detention facility, separated at a significant distance from the other detainees, and the other detainees were not permitted to have access to them. Indeed, they were housed in a communal facility, rather than cells. They underwent assessments from medical, behavioral, and educational experts to address their needs. Furthermore, we taught them mathematics, English, and reading, and provided daily physical exercise and sports programs.
It is unfortunate that al Qaeda and the Taliban use juveniles as combatants. The United States detains enemy combatants engaged in armed conflict against it and the juveniles were detained to prevent further harm to them and to our forces.
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:
The U.S. does detain juveniles that are encountered on the battlefield. That both removes them from the dangerous effect of combat and at the same time it protects our forces and other innocent civilians. We go to great lengths when we do detain juveniles to recognize the special needs of a juvenile population and to provide them with a safe environment away from hostilities.
It is unfortunate, as I indicated, that children are and continue to be recruited into armed conflict. In Iraq in particular we have had to detain individuals who are juveniles who were involved in planting Improvised Explosive Devices, those are roadside bombs, that have also been actively engaged in fighting. I think many of you have read in the news over the past several weeks that there have been at least two suicide bombings involving children over the past week that did result in the death of more than 20 people in Iraq. Separately, there’s also reporting now related to juveniles being recruited in Pakistan between the ages of nine and twelve to make bombs and to become suicide bombers. It is unfortunate.
Now when we do encounter children who have been recruited into the armed forces to take up hostilities in a dangerous environment, we do believe that it is important to remove them from that battlefield environment. We do believe that in the short term that [we] can provide for them a more safe and secure environment for them to temporarily be housed. But we recognize that the primary purpose is to remove them from the battlefield. It protects the lives of innocent civilians who are being killed. It also protects the lives of our forces. And in some instances it may protect their own lives.