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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - New Zealand

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - New Zealand, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4.0 million (1.0 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 9,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 17
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 12 November 2001
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 182, ICC

The minimum voluntary recruitment age was 17. As of August 2007 some 120 under-18s were members of the regular forces.


National recruitment legislation and practice

New Zealand's declaration on ratifying the Optional Protocol stated that the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into its national forces was 17.1 The 1990 Defence Act set out the basis for voluntary recruitment, and was amended in 2001 to implement the Optional Protocol, stating that "No person who is under 17 years may be appointed to, or enlisted or engaged in, the Navy, the Army, or the Air Force" (Article 33). The amended Defence Act further stated that "no person serving in the Armed Forces who is under 18 years shall be liable for active service" (Article 37). Defence Force Orders for Personnel Administration were also amended, to make it clear that deploying personnel under 18 years of age on "active service", whether overseas or in New Zealand, was prohibited.2 Human rights organizations expressed concern that the Defence Act did not define "active service" and hence was unclear whether this would include peacekeeping or rebuilding missions.3

In its initial report on the Optional Protocol, the government stated that "The Defence Act 1990 does not currently set a minimum age for voluntary recruitment", indicating lack of awareness of the 2001 amendment.4 Human rights organizations were concerned that, since the minimum recruitment age was set by Defence Orders and not by the Defence Act, there was no legislative barrier to the age of recruitment being lowered.5 However, the New Zealand Defence Force subsequently agreed that the term "enlistment" in section 33 of the amended Defence Act covered voluntary recruitment, as contemplated by Article 3 of the Optional Protocol, thereby confirming 17 as the minimum age of recruitment.6

In its initial report on the Optional Protocol, New Zealand stated that reasons for retaining 17 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment included the "inverse relationship between the age of enlistment and retention after five years of service". The government said that raising the minimum recruitment age might increase the difficulty in attracting recruits to technical positions, and that an environment in which all recruits started on an equal footing had traditionally offered opportunities of success to recruits from lower socio-economic groups, particularly those who left school at 17.7 The government planned to review its position on the voluntary age of recruitment in 2007 as part of its preparation of the 2008 periodic report.8 In September 2007, however, it informed the Child Soldiers Coalition that raising the recruitment age was still not considered to be a "viable option", since, given the number of 17-year-olds currently enlisting, this would prevent an annual average of 24 per cent of potential enlistees from joining the armed forces.9

There was no legislation in New Zealand providing for compulsory recruitment or conscription. In its initial report under the Optional Protocol, the government noted that were conscription to be introduced in any form, specific legislation would be required. The minimum age of 17 for voluntary recruitment into the Defence Force would not be affected, and any future legislation establishing conscription would need to comply with New Zealand's international legal commitments, including Article 1 of the Optional Protocol relating to direct participation in hostilities.10

Military training and military schools

There were no military schools run by the armed forces.11 The New Zealand Cadet Force was "a voluntary, disciplined, uniformed training organization" for young people aged between 13 and 18, according to the 1990 Defence Act. It aimed to promote training programs or courses similar to those undertaken by the armed forces, appreciation among cadets of the function and operations of the armed forces, and the development of good citizenship (Section 77). Although the Cadet Force was administered by the New Zealand military, cadets were not members of the armed forces (Section 2).12 As of June 2007 there were approximately 3,800 cadets enrolled.13

Child recruitment and deployment

As of 1 August 2007 the total number of regular forces members under 18 was 120, or 1.3 per cent of the total number of service members.14 

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

Since 2004, 13 former child soldiers from Myanmar had been granted refugee status in New Zealand as unaccompanied minors.15

1 Optional Protocol, signatures, ratifications and declarations,

2 Office of the Minister of Youth Affairs, Annual Progress Report on the Uncroc Five-Year Work Programme for 2004/2005,

3 Robert Ludbrook, "Children's Law since 2004", Working Paper No. 2, Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa, August 2007,

4 Initial report of New Zealand to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/NZL/1, July 2003.

5 Action for Children and Youth Aotearoa, Response to the New Zealand government's report on compliance with the Optional Protocol on children involved in armed conflict, September 2003,

6 Ministry of Youth Development, United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Five-Year Work Programme 2004 to 2008, September 2004,

7 Initial report of New Zealand, above note 4.

8 Five-Year Work Programme, above note 6.

9 Child Soldiers Coalition correspondence with Ministry of Defence, September 2007.

10 Initial Report of New Zealand, above note 4.

11 Ibid.

12 Defence Act (1990).

13 Coalition correspondence with New Zealand Cadet Force, June 2007.

14 Coalition correspondence, above note 9.

15 Ibid.

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