“The night they came I was hidden in my school. As I was the youngest, they forced me to guide them to my family’s hideouts. One of them tried to escape. They forced us to club him to death and slaughter him. They put his remains in a bag and left it on the path.”
Good afternoon distinguished guests. This account derives from Nacy, a 6-year-old girl from Uganda, and one of the estimated 300,000 children conscripted as Child Soldiers. This international phenomenon of Child Soldiers – where children under 18 are recruited by state or non-state armed forces and are used as fighters, suicide bombers, messengers, human shields, or for sexual purposes- is a violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In the last 15 years, an estimated 2 million killed and 6 million injured or disabled. Consequently, international legal and non-legal responses have been employed to eradicate this universal concern.
The most imperative and comprehensive international legal measure put in place was the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, which was enacted in 2000. The adoption of the Optional Protocol obliges all contracting parties to take “all feasible measures to ensure that members of armed forces who have not attained the age of 18 years do not take a part in hostilities” and “shall ensure that persons who have not attained the age of 18 years are not compulsorily recruited into their armed forces.” Hence, the Optional Protocol is effective albeit to a certain extent. Since these obligations have built a stronger international framework and expanded the protection of children, the Protocol is optional, limiting its effectiveness as sovereign states become signatories at their own discretion. Furthermore, issues obstructing the treaty’s effectiveness is the non-existent coverage of voluntary enlistment for child soldiers and its inconsistent minimum age of 16. This issue has been highlighted in a recent News.com.au article from January 3rd 2015, titled “Ukraine militia allegedly holding ‘voluntary’ enlistment for child soldiers” where the enlistments were teenagers from 16-17, conveying the continuous nature of the human rights breach as their rights to safety, education and adequate standard of living have been infringed- thus exemplifying the Protocol’s limitations, lack of enforceability of laws and compliance of member states, and failure to effectively protect individual rights.
Another international milestone occurred in 2002 when the Rome Statue 1998 entered into force and criminalised the “conscription and use of children under 15 in hostilities by national armed forces” as a war crime, and established the International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute war criminals. The establishment of the ICC amplified the enforcement of previous legal agreements on child soldiers, and has been reasonably effective, since, according to the ‘Human Rights Watch” article titled “Justice in Congo” (March 15th, 2012), “warlord Thomas Lubanga was found guilty of recruiting and using child soldiers and sentenced to a 14 year imprisonment”. The international prosecution exemplifies the potential legal deterrent the ICC positions for future warlords and the repercussions and sanctions under the Rome Statute dispel the belief that war criminals will not be held accountable for their actions, creating an effective legal measure, however, only to a certain degree. The ICC’s limitations are validated in its non-existent executive powers, no police force of its own, and does not have the proficiencies to implement its own decisions, demonstrating its limitations and lack of enforceability. Additionally, it incurs predicaments in investigating and collecting evidence for war crimes due to the scarcity of financial resources, impacting on the legal responses ability to effectively protect children. Furthermore,