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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Cambodia

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Cambodia, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 26 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: 14.1 million (6.2 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 124,300
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 18 (see text)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 16 July 2004
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC

Although there were no reports of under-18s being recruited or used, the recruitment and use of children as soldiers was not specifically criminalized in national legislation.


Child labour was still widespread, with more than half of Cambodian children aged under 14 being put to work, despite a national legal minimum working age of 15.1 The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established in 2006 to bring to trial those responsible for serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge period.2


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution provided that "The State shall protect the rights of children as stipulated in the Convention on Children, in particular, the right to life, education, protection during wartime, and ... shall protect children from acts that are injurious to their educational opportunities, health and welfare" (Article 48).

According to the government's initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, under-18s were not accepted for military service.3 The Law on General Statutes for the Military Personnel of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces contained separate provisions for regular military personnel and those serving fixed-term contracts. It stipulated that those on contracts should be at least 18 (Article 42), but did not expressly stipulate a minimum age for other military personnel.4

In October 2006 the National Assembly passed a new law on compulsory military service, requiring all Cambodian men aged 18-30 to register and, if required, to serve 18 months in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.5 The law also provided for prison sentences of up to five years for men who refused to join up.6 A similar law had been rejected in 1996.7 Critics of the new law accused the government of using military service to hide growing unemployment figures.8 As of October 2007, regulations to establish registration and call-up procedures had yet to be finalized, and no conscription had taken place.

Military training and military schools

Cambodia operated several military schools, although full details of their structure and operation were not clear. Four levels of professional military education were set out in a Defence White Paper in 2000. Comprehensive recruit training was to be provided by commanders in each military region, with emphasis placed on physical training and sport. The Junior Officer School would develop courses on discipline and humanitarian law for all newly commissioned officers. A command and staff course would provide training to middle-ranking officers. Finally, a senior officer training program would be provided at the Officers' Academy.9 However, an updated Defence White Paper in 2006 acknowledged that the control of educational institutions for career soldiers was "in disarray", and announced a new series of reforms intended to reorganize and modernize military training. The 2006 White Paper also noted the important and extensive role in training new recruits played by the Army Non-commissioned Officers' School, now planned to be brought under the Army Training Centre.10

It was not clear whether students at the various military schools were considered active members of the military and what, if any, military training was given to students below the age of 18. The law did not set a lower age limit for regular military personnel, but the duration of training courses at military schools would appear to preclude students from being selected to join military ranks before the age of 18.11

Child recruitment and deployment

The recruitment and use of children as soldiers was not specifically criminalized in national legislation.

Recruitment of children as soldiers and cadres had been very common in the Khmer Rouge period (1975-9), with evidence of children as young as five being trained as cadres.12 It was not known whether the prosecutors' office of the ECCC would seek to bring charges either against former child soldiers or in relation to their recruitment.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

Both non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN bodies reported many cases of under-age recruitment by the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces during Cambodia's civil war in the years following the end of the Khmer Rouge period in 1979.13

The second phase of the government's US$42 million donor-assisted demobilization program, which had commenced in 1999 and was suspended indefinitely in 2003 after the World Bank identified irregularities in the use of funds, was not resumed. In total, 16,500 of a planned 31,500 soldiers, most of whom were old, sick or disabled, had been demobilized under the program before it was suspended.14 The program did not include a component for the demobilization or reintegration of those who were under 18 when recruited.

In October 2006 the government announced its intention to reduce the size of the army by a further 40,000, to a total of 70,000 troops.15 There was reported to have been an attempt to identify former child soldiers for demobilization, but there was no follow-up action taken or further available information.16 The government's 2006 Defence White Paper stated that Category II soldiers (the disabled, the elderly and the chronically ill) would again constitute the principal group for discharge over the next five years.17


At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Cambodia 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.

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

In October 2004 Cambodia ratified its May 2003 agreement with the UN to establish a criminal tribunal to bring to justice suspected perpetrators of serious human rights violations during the period of Khmer Rouge rule (1975-9). The ECCC was established in 2006, its judicial work being formally launched in July with the swearing in of judicial officers.18 The tribunal was based on a mixed model with both Cambodian and international judges, prosecutors and defence lawyers, and a voting system designed to ensure that every decision had the support of both Cambodian and international judges.19

From its inception the ECCC was subject to repeated delays and dogged by accusations of politicization and corruption, but by June 2007 two obstacles to progress had been removed with the unanimous adoption of ECCC internal rules20 and measures to facilitate the participation of foreign defence lawyers.21 The first suspect was arrested and charged with crimes against humanity in July 2007.22

International standards

In July 2004 Cambodia ratified the Optional Protocol, referring in its declaration to Article 42 of the Law on General Statutes for the Military Personnel of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, which set 18 as the minimum age for contractual-service military personnel.23

Cambodia ratified the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention 182 in March 2006.

1 "Child labour still rampant in Cambodia: UNICEF", ABC News, 12 June 2006.

2 Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC),

3 Initial report of Cambodia to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/11/Add.16, 24 June 1998.

4 Law on General Statutes for the Military Personnel of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (1997),

5 "Lawmakers OK military conscription", Cambodia Daily, 26 October 2006.

6 "Cambodia defies int'l donors with military conscription", China Post, 26 October 2006.

7 "Cambodia introduces conscription", CO Update, November 2006, War Resisters International,

8 "Cambodia votes for conscription", BBC News,25 October 2006.

9 Defending the Kingdom of Cambodia, Royal Government of Cambodia Defence White Paper, August 2000,

10 Defending the Kingdom of Cambodia, Royal Government of Cambodia Defence White Paper, August 2006.

11 Ibid.

12 Child Soldiers in Cambodia, LICADHO (Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights) Briefing Paper, June 1998,

13 A Survey of Programs on the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, 30 March 2001,

14 Ian C. Porter, World Bank Country Director, "World Bank defends role in demob process", letter, Phnom Penh Post, 22 April – 5 May 2005,

15 "Cambodia to downsize troops by 40,000", Xinhua, 16 October 2006.

16 Confidential source, October 2007.

17 Defending the Kingdom of Cambodia, above note 10.

18 Annual report on achievements of the ECCC for 2006,

19 Khmer Rouge Trial Task Force, "An Introduction to the Khmer Rouge Trials", August 2004,

20 ECCC, above note 2, Internal Rules, 12 June 2007.

21 "Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal still at risk: UN judge", ABC Radio Australia, 24 March 2007.

22 ECCC, above note 2, Statement of the Co-investigating Judges, 31 July 2007.

23 Declaration on accession to the Optional Protocol,

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