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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Iran

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Iran, 2004, available at: [accessed 24 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.

Islamic Republic of Iran

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 68.1 million (27.8 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 540,000 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 19 (regular forces); 15 (paramilitary forces)
Voluntary recruitment age: 16
Voting age: 15
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, ILO 182

The Iranian armed forces and official paramilitary groups, the Basij, recruited 15 year olds. The Mujahedeen Khalq Organization (MKO) and Kurdish armed opposition groups were alleged to have children in their ranks.


After the end of Iran's eight-year war with Iraq in 1989, in which child soldiers were used extensively by both sides, Iranian forces were engaged in armed conflict with Kurdish groups seeking political autonomy and with the MKO, whose aim was to overthrow the government.

The MKO's armed wing, the National Liberation Army (NLA) of Iran, conducted armed raids into Iran with the support of the Iraqi government. In December 2003, following the US-led occupation of Iraq, US forces reportedly disarmed 3,800 NLA fighters and confined them in Ashraf camp in Diyala province, Iraq.1 Some sources suggested they were permitted to keep light weapons.2 Iran expressed fears that MKO fighters were regrouping in camps near the Iranian border.3

The Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI) and Komaleh, the main Kurdish opposition groups, are based in Iraq but have not taken military action against the Iranian government since the mid-1990s.4 In 2003 the KDPI leader said that "We continue [unarmed] activities inside Iran.... And because we no longer have a military presence, the regime has stopped shelling Kurdish areas".5

Paramilitary and vigilante forces were used by the authorities to confront large student-led protests.


National recruitment legislation

The constitution states that "the government is obliged to provide a programme of military training, with all requisite facilities for all its citizens, in accordance with the Islamic criteria, in such a way that all citizens will be able to engage in the armed defence of the Islamic Republic of Iran" (Article 151).6

The government stated in 1998 that "according to article 2 of the Public Conscription Act, every Iranian citizen is eligible for military service as of 21 March of the year he reaches 19", and that "the minimum employment age for the armed forces for the purpose of receiving military training is 16 and the minimum age for employment for the Police Forces is 17." Girls are exempt from military service altogether.7 The governmental National Youth Organization said in 2004 that 16 was the minimum age to be employed "as the stable or contractual cadre" of the army."8

Military service is performed in the Iranian Armed Forces and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (Pasdaran), which emerged shortly after the 1979 revolution and has its own air and naval services. Since 1998 military service has been for 21 months, or 18 months in operational regions or deprived areas.9 Students may postpone military service. Exemptions are available to those whose brothers or fathers were killed in the Iran-Iraq war or, on payment of a fee, to those who have completed military training courses in the Basij or other military centres.10

Official paramilitary groups and government-backed paramilitaries

The Basij militia, an auxiliary unit of the Pasdaran, has as many as a million members and relies heavily on youths to fill its ranks. The minimum age for recruitment is 15.11 Aims of a National Youth Policy, formulated by the government's Supreme Council of the Youth in 1992, include "ensur[ing] the youth's constant relation with Basij bases ... , providing military instructions for the youth and making them familiar with defence strategies and techniques and advanced military technology".12 The Basij was reported to have recruited disaffected or dispossessed youth from schools, workplaces and villages.13 Although membership is voluntary, villagers in eastern Iran were forcibly recruited because of a shortage of members.14

Ansar-e Hizbollah is a vigilante group tolerated by the government, which seeks to enforce Islamic standards in Iranian society. Recruiting mainly from war veterans and the Basij, it reportedly has no minimum age limit for membership.15 The vigilantes were active in countering student demonstrations in June 2003.16

Armed political groups

The MKO reportedly recruited members from the USA, Europe and Iraqi prisoner of war camps and jails. Children were said to be among MKO members in Ashraf camp, including 17-year-old Majid Amini who "was recruited to join the MKO in Tehran with promises of completing two school grades in one year and gaining a place in college", according to his parents.17 There were reports that the MKO recruited children from Sweden.18

A study of Iranian Kurdish refugees in Sweden revealed that "a minority of the Iranian Kurds [interviewed] had entered the guerrilla movement before the age of 15". The study indicated that there was no compulsion to join the peshmerga (Kurdish fighters), although "there was great pressure at school" to do so. One Iranian Kurd reported, "When I was 13 to 14 years old I wanted to be like my uncle – a peshmerga. When he died I decided to do the same as he did and be a peshmerga."19


International standards

Iran signed the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on 31 December 2000, but had not ratified it as of March 2004.

1 "Expelling the MKO is a test of Iraqi Sovereignty", Lebanon Daily Star, 23 December 2003.

2 Interview with David Philips, Council on Foreign Relations, 7 January 2004,; International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Armed Conflict Database, Summary 2003.

3 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), Armed Conflict Report, 2003.

4 IISS, Armed Conflict Report, 2003.

5 Gareth Smyth, "Kurdish party sets out terms for talks with Tehran", Financial Times (UK), 2 May 2003.

6 Constitution of Iran, at Law Library of Congress,

7 Initial report of Iran to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/41/Add.5, 23 July 1998,

8 National Youth Organization, htm.

9 Iran News Agency, "Armed forces reduce military service by three months", 12 October 1998.

10 Iran News Agency, "Majlis approves new regulations on military service exemption", 25 February 2004.

11 National Youth Organization, op. cit.

12 National Youth Policy, Article 44 – Cognition of Enemies, B. Strategic orientations of the National Youth Policy,

13 Ardeshir Moaveni, "Volunteer Militia Seen As Key To Future Power Struggle In Iran", EurasiaNet, 8 January 2003.

14 A. William Samii, "Military Service Exemptions Eliminated", Iran Report, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 19 November 2001,


16 Human Rights Watch, Iran: End vigilante attacks: Independent commission should investigate government role in assaults, June 2003,

17 Christian Science Monitor, "Inside a group caught between three powers", 31 December 2003,

18 Radda Barnen (Save the Children – Sweden), Childwar database.

19 A-C. Hermansson, T. Timpka, J.M. Nyce, "Exploration of the life histories and future of war-wounded Salvadoran and Iranian Kurd quota refugees in Sweden: a qualitative approach", International Journal of Social Welfare 2003:12.

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