CIDHHeaderEn.GIF (11752 bytes)





 The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has been concerned for some time about the use of children and adolescents in armed conflicts and the consequences that experience had and still have for them. It has seen the declaration adopted at the Latin American and Caribbean Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (Montevideo, July 1999)[1], which urges the IACHR to adopt a recommendation on this issue and further urges its Rapporteur on the Rights of the Child to include this issue in the Commission’s Annual Report. 

          The Declaration and the American Convention on Human Rights recognize that all children, without discrimination, have the right to special protection, care, and assistance, and to measures required by their status as minors, from their families, society, and the state. Similarly, the Inter-American Charter of Social Guarantees bars children under 14 from being employed and children under 18 from engaging in dangerous work, and commits the states to guaranteeing conditions enabling minors to complete compulsory basic education. 

          In agreement with this are the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Convention No. 182 of the International Labour Organization[2], and rules of humanitarian law, particularly Protocols 1 and 2 to the Geneva Conventions.  Recently, the Statute of the International Criminal Court made “conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into the national armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities,” whether committed by state armed forces, paramilitary forces, or armed dissident groups, a war crime carrying international criminal liability. 

Investigations by the Commission and papers presented at the Conference in Montevideo show that, although this situation is less serious in the Americas than in other regions of the world, thousands of children and adolescents still participate in armed conflicts in some countries in the region. In some cases, consent is given by their families, who feel they must subject their children to this situation in order to survive.  In this poverty-afflicted region, child labor involves between 15 and 19% of children between 10 and 14 years of age[3].  

Although laws in most member countries establish a minimum age of 18 for conscription, practices violating the human rights of children persist. The Commission finds such practices comparable to slavery and forced servitude. One example is the forced “drafting” by state military forces, which generally recruit young people from poor and/or indigenous families. Armed dissident groups also recruit minors, often through kidnapping, or by forcing families to surrender them as contributions to the war.

The use of children and adolescents in armed conflicts places their lives, well-being, and education at great risk. They are forced to use high-caliber weapons. They are required to lay explosives, to kill other children who are considered “traitors” or change their minds, and to participate in kidnappings, surveillance, and bomb intelligence work. In some cases, children as young as eight are used for these perilous tasks. These illegal, perverse practices subject boys, girls, and youths to the inherent risks of combat, to sexual abuse, and to other forms of abusive, brutal, and humiliating treatment. They are drawn into a culture of violence, and their rights to education and to ordinary participation in society are curtailed. 

Moreover, the Commission has found that many children and adolescents suffer lasting repercussions after the armed conflict has ended, including physical injuries, psychological trauma, the loss of relatives, the breakdown of the family unit, geographical displacement--whether internal or international, and disruption of their education. 





To the States 

          1.       To repeal any laws or regulations that permit conscription or voluntary enlistment of adolescents under the minimum age allowed by international instruments, and to urge them to sign and eventually ratify the Draft Additional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the Working Group of the UN Commission of Human Rights forbidding the recruitment of minors of 18 years to participate in armed conflicts. 

          2.       To take severe legislative, judicial, or other measures to identify, prosecute, and punish state agents or civilians who carry out, authorize, assist in, or facilitate the recruitment of minors or their use in armed conflicts; 

          3.       To cooperate, as appropriate, with international organizations in their efforts to prosecute those who commit this international crime for criminal liability; 

          4.       To establish special policies, mechanisms, and institutions for the recovery, reeducation, and social rehabilitation of children and youths who have participated in armed organizations, whether state or nongovernmental; 

          5.       To establish mechanisms for educating the public and raising its awareness, through state and nongovernmental organizations, about the prohibition on the use of minors in war and dangerous activities; on the criminal consequences of such practices; and on the impact of such activities on the lives of young people now and in the future. 

          6.       To establish policies for redressing damage to children and adolescents wounded or disabled by armed conflicts, indemnifying them, and providing them with proper physical and psychological care and remedial education.

          7.       To establish mechanisms to compensate for the negative effects of armed conflicts on children and adolescents from refugee or internally displaced families.


To the parties involved in armed conflicts (States, paramilitary groups, and armed dissident groups): 

          1.       To observe, implement, and enforce, through their command and supervision structures, humanitarian and international law on the rights of children, committing themselves to and implementing strong measures that prohibit within their ranks the use of minors in any war activity, including information, tactical or logistical support, or surveillance activities, and that prohibit any of their members from recruiting, using, or tacitly accepting any such use of minors; 

2.       To refrain from any form of violence, pressure, or compensation designed to persuade families to facilitate access to or surrender their minor children for participation in armed or war activities. 

       3.       To release all their under-age members from any obligation and facilitate the reintegration of such minors into family and social life.


            To each child and youth:

Know that you have the right and the obligation not to participate in activities related to armed conflict, regardless of who may order or attempt to convince or force you to do so.

[ Table of Contents | Previous | Next ]

[1] Sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uruguay and the Coalition to Prevent the Use of Children in Armed Conflicts, and organized by the Inter-American Children’s Institute (OAS).

[2] Unanimously adopted at the International Labour Conference, June 1999.

[3] Annual Report of the ILO, July 1999.