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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Japan

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Japan, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
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: 128.1 million (21.8 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 240,400
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18
Voting Age: 20
Optional Protocol: ratified 2 August 2004
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC

There were no reports of under-18s in the armed forces. Although 15-year-olds could become youth cadets, they were never deployed.


Six hundred ground troops deployed by Japan to Iraq in January 2004 were withdrawn in July 2006. However, around 200 air force personnel continued to airlift personnel and cargo between Iraq and Kuwait, with deployment to be reviewed in July 2008.1 This was the first foreign deployment of Japanese troops since the end of the Second World War, apart from under the auspices of the UN, and it was criticized for being in potential breach of Article 9 of the constitution, which defined Japan as pacifist.2

A nuclear test by North Korea in October 2006 intensified public debate in Japan on whether to revise the constitution towards taking a more aggressive stance.3 In May 2007 the Japanese parliament passed legislation setting out the procedures for a referendum on amending the constitution, while the government was working on draft amendments that were expected to move away from the pacifist approach.4


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1947 constitution stated that the Japanese people "forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes ... land, sea and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The rights of belligerency of the state will not be recognized" (Article 9). The Self-Defence Forces were established in 1954 to defend against invasion and to maintain the peace, independence and security of Japan.

In 2003 Japan reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that "Article 25 of the Enforcement Regulations of Law and the Instructions for Assignment of Youth Cadets stipulate that the Self-Defence Forces may accept applications only from those who are 18 years old or over, except for attending its educational institutions through the youth cadet programme".5

There was no conscription.6 However, emergency security legislation passed in 2002 calling for "people's co-operation" in the event of an emergency raised concerns that this could entail conscription.7

Military training and military schools

All three branches of the Self-Defence Forces (ground, maritime and air) operated youth cadet programs for lower-secondary-school graduates.8 Cadets from the age of 15 received secondary-school education, basic military training and training to become technical specialists in the armed forces. According to the government they were not deployed on front lines and not expected to engage in hostilities, even in the event of an emergency.9 They were, however, considered to be adopted as members of the Self-Defence Forces.10

In addition, university-level military academies existed, and about 1,700 cadets attended the National Defence Academy, where the emphasis was on academic education. Cadets received further military training at officer candidate schools after graduation.11

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

The Japanese government provided assistance to demobilization and reintegration efforts in a number of countries through the Japanese International Co-operation Agency (JICA).12 Projects included support to the demobilization processes in Afghanistan and Cambodia, and provision of skills training for demobilized soldiers in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Sudan. JICA's programs were not specifically directed at the DDR of under-18s, but in some situations children could be among those to benefit.13


At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Japan and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.

International standards

In August 2004 Japan ratified the Optional Protocol, stating in its declaration that "The Government of Japan, by relevant laws and regulations, recruits only those who are at and above the minimum age of 18 as a member of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, with the exception of the cases of the students solely receiving educational training at the schools within the structure of the Japan Self-Defense Forces ( ... 'Youth Cadets'), which come under 'schools' stipulated in Article 3, paragraph 5 of the Optional Protocol". The declaration further stated that the minimum age of recruitment of the Youth Cadets was 15 years, and set out a number of safeguards designed to ensure that the recruitment of the Youth Cadets was not forced or coerced. These included the requirement of consent from a parent or guardian, documentary proof of age for being at or over 15 years, and confirmation that a candidate was fully informed in advance of the duties involved.14 Although more than two years had passed since ratification, Japan had yet to submit its initial report on the Optional Protocol.15

Japan acceded to Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions in August 2004 and to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in July 2007.

1 "Japan will extend Iraq deployment till July 2008, Shiozaki says", Bloomberg News, 10 July 2007,

2 "Japan's Iraq troops arrive home", BBC News, 20 July 2007.

3 Amnesty International Report 2007.

4 "Japan approves constitution steps", BBC News, 14 May 2007.

5 Second periodic report of Japan to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/104/Add.2, 24 July 2003.

6 Ibid.

7 "Emergency legislation may allow for conscription", Japan Today, 3 May 2002,

8 Global Security, "Japan Ground Self Defence Force, Nihon Rikujyo Jieita", 2000,

9 Initial report of Japan to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/41/Add.1, 5 August 1996.

10 Letter to Child Soldiers Coalition from Embassy of Japan, London, 25 February 2004.

11 National Defence Academy,

12 Coalition correspondence with JICA, June 2007.

13 Ibid.

14 Declaration on accession to the Optional Protocol,

15 UN Treaty Bodies Database,

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