Two optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of Child were adopted by the UN General Assembly on May 25, 2000: The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict and the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict requires governments to ensure that children under the age of eighteen are not recruited compulsorily into their armed forces, and calls on governments to do everything feasible to ensure that members of their armed forces who are under eighteen years of age do not take part in hostilities.
Worldwide, an estimated 300,000 children are forcibly recruited or abducted to join armies; tragically, some are under the age of 10. Many of them have also witnessed or taken part in acts of unbelievable violence.
Article 38 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child recommends that governments initiate all possible measures to ensure that children under 15 have no direct part in hostilities. The Convention also sets 15 years as the minimum age at which an individual can be voluntarily recruited into or enlisted in the armed forces. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict is an effort to strengthen implementation of the Convention and increase the protection of children during armed conflicts.
The Protocol requires the ratifying States to take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces under the age of 18 do not take a direct part in hostilities. They are also required to raise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into the armed forces from 15 years but does not require a minimum age of 18. Children under 18 are entitled to special protection under the protocol; so any voluntary recruitment under the age of 18 must include sufficient safeguards. The Protocol however bans compulsory recruitment below the age of 18. States parties are also advised to take legal measures to prohibit independent armed groups from recruiting and using children under the age of 18 in conflicts.
While ratifying the Protocol, States are required to make a declaration regarding the age at which national armed forces will permit voluntary recruitment, as well as the steps that States will take to ensure that such recruitment is never forced or coerced. This requirement is particularly important because the Optional Protocol does not establish age 18 as a minimum for voluntary recruitment into the armed forces; but only for direct participation in armed conflict.
The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict became legally binding on February 12, 2002; and it been ratified by more than 128 countries.