Despite the fact that there is no any particular armed conflict and civil unrest in Ethiopia, it’s becoming common to see persons under the age of 15 carrying a gun in different parts of the country. Although these pictures has been looked as fun by so many people, it becomes more serious when the children carrying the gun used some flags and have some connection with organized groups and parties in the country. Based on this assessment, there is a worry that in any case of an armed struggle or any kind of hostilities there would be some kind of resentment to use those children under the age of 15 to actively participate in situations of conflicts. Thus, the following short legal analysis is made to inform any concerned party about the legal ramification of their activity in using children under the age of 15 to execute their military or any hostility related missions.
- Protection of a Child under International law
Children have an ultimate protection under international law. Particularly, International humanitarian law provides broad protection for children. Given the particular vulnerability of children, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 (API and APII) lay down a series of rules according them special protection. The Additional Protocols, the 1989 Convention on the rights of the child and its recent Optional Protocol, in particular, also set limits on children's participation in hostilities.
The 1989 Convention on the rights of the child, which has been almost universally ratified, covers all the fundamental rights of the child. Article 38 extends the field of application of Art. 77 API to non-international armed conflict. Article 38 urges States Parties to take all feasible measures to ensure that those aged of less than 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities (para. 2) and that priority be given in recruitment to the oldest of those aged between 15 and 18 (para. 3).
In addition to this, the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, adopted on 25 May 2000 extends the following basic protections for children under the age of 15.
- the States Parties must take all feasible measures to ensure that members of their armed forces who have not reached the age of 18 years do not take direct part in hostilities (Art. 1);
- Compulsory recruitment into the armed forces of persons under 18 years of age is prohibited (Art. 2);
- The States Parties shall rise the minimum age for voluntary recruitment from 15 years.
- Armed groups distinct from the national armed forces should not, under any circumstances, recruit (whether on a compulsory or voluntary basis) or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years, and the States Parties must take legal measures to prohibit and criminalize such practices (Art. 4).
Particularly, the fourth point has a direct concern in the case at hand. If there is any armed group in the country different from the national armed forces this armed group is prohibited in any circumstances from using persons under the age of 18 in hostilities. In addition, the government is obliged to take measures to prohibit and criminalize such practices.