Last Updated: Friday, 27 November 2015, 12:04 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Indonesia

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Indonesia, 2001, available at: [accessed 28 November 2015]
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.


Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 209,255,00
    – under-18s: 77,805,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 297,000
    – reserves: 400,000
    – paramilitary: 195,000 active
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): 17
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government-allied militias and opposition forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: GC; ILO 138; ILO 182
  • There are no indications of under-18s in government armed forces. However, militias supporting the government are known to recruit child soldiers. In addition armed groups in Indonesia's troubled provinces are said to use child soldiers as young as 12.


Indonesia continues to face internal conflict in West Timor, Aceh, Irian Jaya, Kalimantan and Maluku. East Timor gained independence from Indonesia in 1999 in the violent aftermath of a popular referendum (see East Timor entry). A May 2000 accord between the government and Free Aceh Movement (GAM) has been shaken by further violence. In Moluccas (also known as the Spice Islands) there have been clashes between Christian and Muslim groups since the beginning of 1999. There is also ongoing insurgency in the province of Irian Jaya and ethnic violence has flared up recently in Kalimantan.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

According to Article 30 of the 1945 constitution, "(1) all citizens have the right and the duty to participate in the defence of the State. (2) Matters concerning national defence shall be provided by law." The prevailing legislation on military service is the 1988 Law on Conditions of Military Service, according to which Indonesians may be conscripted into the regular armed forces for two years and into the reserve forces for five years.888 Separate legislation deals with the mobilisation of citizens in situations of war and national emergency. The 1997 Law on Mobilisation and Demobilisation authorises the President to call up all citizens aged between 18 and 50 years into both the armed forces and the reserve forces. However, a formal declaration of war is required for such conscription.889

In its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Indonesia declared that the 1982 Law on National Defence sets a minimum age of 18 for any voluntary recruitment into the armed forces.890 This was confirmed by the Indonesian Government representative at the Asia-Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers (Kathmandu, May 2000).891

In practice, voluntary recruitment appears to make general call-ups for military service unnecessary.

There is one Armed Forces Academy in Indonesia, which is sub-divided into the Army, Air Force, Navy and Police academies (The Police Force is now being formally separated from the military). According to UNICEF, the minimum age for entry is 18 years.

Government-allied paramilitary forces

In addition to the regular armed forces, there are a variety of militia-style paramilitary formations throughout the country. In the early 1990s, their total strength was estimated between 70,000 and 100,000. These forces come under the army's territorial hierarchy which provides them with officers and training; in times of emergency, they are under the command of the army area commander. The Ratih civilian militia was established in 1982 to resist invasion and internal rebellion, but replaced in recent years with the Kamra People's Security Force (internal) and Wanra People's Resistance (external). Other forces include Hansip, the Civil Defence Force, established under government control in each village community and the Pam Swakarsa, (literally "self-security") voluntary militia, which has a more irregular status.

Child Recruitment and Deployment

According to UNICEF there are no under-18s in the regular armed forces of Indonesia.892 However, paramilitary groups supported by the government in regions such as Aceh and East Timor have reportedly used children as soldiers (See East Timor entry).

Youths are also involved in various civilian militia, often associated with political parties and sometimes deployed to help the military keep order. In November 1998, for instance, one 17-year-old student said he was promised 10,000 rupiah (USD 1.30) plus food for working with the Pam Swakarsa militia during a session of Indonesia's legislature. The militia were given green headbands and bamboo staves and ordered to stop demonstrators marching on parliament.893 Acting under the banner of the Islamist movement Furkon, they engaged in acts of intimidation against opponents of the government.

In Aceh, there have been reports of militias similar to those set up in East Timor. In November 1999, young pro-Indonesian students were seen in the back of a police vehicle in the centre of Banda Aceh carrying modern rifles. In January 2000, a representative of the International Commission of Jurists claimed that child soldiers had been used by such groups to terrorise the pro-independence populace.894 Other abuses of children have also been reported. Two girls, aged 15 and 24, were abducted by Police Mobile Brigade personnel in Lhok Jamin. They were held for two months and forced to act as sex slaves and perform domestic tasks.895


Child Recruitment and Deployment

In Aceh, The Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka – GAM) movement was created in the 1950s and is reported to have more than 1,000 trained fighters. GAM is said to carry out voluntary and forced recruitment of children, for example during a recruitment drive in November 1999. The Guardian newspaper pictured one child soldier holding an AK47 rifle.896 Amnesty International has received information about a number of 16 and 17-year-old boys who recently joined the GAM, but numbers are difficult to gauge. Those who refuse to join reportedly face threats, while those who join are encouraged to carry out revenge attacks on those responsible for killing their relatives.897

In Maluku, reports have indicated that children between 7 and 12 years of age have been participating on both sides of the conflict on the islands. Church sources say at least 200 boys have been forcibly recruited. Some are allegedly sent into combat with firebombs in their backpacks. In 2001 the US State Department confirmed information that children from outside the province are being brought in to fight. Islamist students have been mobilised and trained in Java with a view to joining in the conflict in Maluku. In one incident, a 16-year-old from Java who had joined the Laskar Jihad militia was killed while fighting on Saparua island, Maluku province. Islamist groups have called for a jihad against Christians in the Maluku islands, a move condemned by Indonesian President Wahid.898

Units of boys as young as 12, known as AGAS (meaning Church Children who Love God, but also meaning 'gnats')899 are fighting with Christian armed groups. According to one Christian leader: 'They are very valuable in our fights with the Whites (Muslims) because they are young and small. They can sneak into the area and burn everything. Even the Indonesian troops who shoot at the Reds (Christians) will hesitate to shoot a very young person.'900 An international NGO has recently come across a group of 30 "agas" children living in a cathedral.901

In Irian Jaya/Papua, the Free Papua Organisation (OPM) has engaged in a low intensity campaign for the independence of Papua/Irian Jaya since its annexation by Indonesia in 1969 and is thought to number 200-300. While little is known about the OPM's recruitment practice, it is feared that children could be drawn into armed activities in Papua's tribal society.

Elsewhere, in Indonesia, militias and paramilitary groups have also proliferated, usually as wings of political parties or Islamist movements, e.g. the Hisbullah Brigade in Jakarta; the Bulan Sabit (the Crescent Star); the Islamic Defence Front (FPI) and the pro-Megawati Wirapati Task Force. These groups come from a long political tradition in Indonesia, but have become increasingly engaged in political and communal violence.

888 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

889 Ibid.

890 Initial State Report of Indonesia to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/3/Add. 10, 14/1/9393, para. 41.

891 Statement by Indonesian Government representative at the Asia Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, May 2000. According to UNICEF, Law 2/1982 provides a basis for voluntary enlistment at 17.

892 Information provided by UNICEF, 8/99.

893 "The Goon Patrol", Asiaweek, 27/11/98;.

894 "Acehnese cower from escalating reign of violence", The Australian, 17/1/00.

895 Jean Michael Hara to Aceh Forum dated 7/1/001.

896 Kemp, A., "Indonesia armed Timor death squads", Guardian Weekly, 14/2/99; "From victors to victims: trapped by gunfire in Dili. The Observer, 5/9/99; "Freedom on a knife edge", The Guardian, 31/7/99; Spillius, A., "Poor boys recruited for terror., The Daily Telegraph, 2/9/99; UN Doc. A/54/726, S/2000/59: Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on East Timor to the Secretary General, 31/1/00, paras. 135-141; National Human Rights Commission (KOMNASHAM), Report on the investigation of human rights violations in East Timor, Jakarta, 31/1/00.

897 AI:. Indonesia – A cycle of violence for Aceh's children, 23/11/00.

898 Paterson, H. "Timor peacekeepers, militia clash", Associated Press, 18/1/00.

899 Economist, 17/3/01.

900 Paterson, H. "Peacekeepers withdraw from E. Timor", Associated Press, 23/2/00.

901 Jesuit Refugee Service Communication to CSC, 16/2/01.

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