International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Child Soldiers and the Universality of International Criminal Law

In Kaitlyn’s recent post about rape in Libya, she wrote that “One BBC reporter said ‘recognizing rape is an unprecedented move in the conservative North African state.’” I think this is an interesting example of the universality of international criminal law. Just as amnesties for high-level violators are considered illegal under international law, widespread rape as a “weapon against rebel forces” is unacceptable everywhere as well.

The use of child soldiers is an interesting case of this–warlords in Africa weren’t always aware that using child soldiers was a serious violation of international law before the ICC indicted Lubanga, as we discussed in class. In the U.S., we often debate what the correct age limits are for drinking, driving, and joining the military, but it is usually acknowledged that the “right” age depends on the individual. International law, however, necessarily sets a strict age limit, 15 years, to define a child soldier, and I think most of us would agree that fourteen-year-olds are not yet adults.

In Britain right now, an article in the Guardian about the nation’s military college has prompted discussion about the age of enlistment in the U.K, where teenagers can begin to enlist at 15 years, 7 months, according to the director of the NGO Child Soldiers International. Even this higher limit is considered by some to be too low, particularly because of its consequences for education.

I wonder about the consequences of most Western nations setting enlistment ages well above the international limit, and then holding groups in conflict to a lower standard. While respecting cultural differences about age and acknowledging the challenges of conflict seems appropriate, does this suggest that the ICC is not going far enough?

Other questions to consider: what should the age limit for child soldiers be? How should it be determined? What is the difference, in terms of the effects on age limits, between conscription and enlistment? Finally, do conflict situations make younger soldiers more acceptable, presumably because of ‘military necessity’ or desperation?


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