Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Cambodia

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Cambodia, 2004, available at: [accessed 1 June 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.

Kingdom of Cambodia

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 13.8 million (6.9 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 125,000 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18 (no conscription in practice)
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 16 July 2004
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC API and II, ICC, ILO 138

The minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces was 18. There were no reports of under-18s being recruited or used.


In May 2003 the UN General Assembly endorsed a draft agreement on the establishment of a criminal tribunal to bring to justice suspected perpetrators of gross human rights violations during the period of Khmer Rouge rule (197579). The agreement had not been ratified by the Cambodian parliament by March 2004, and concerns remained over the proposed tribunal's capacity to meet international standards for fair trial.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution provides 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).2 The Compulsory Military Service Act states that all male Cambodian citizens between 18 and 30 years of age, without distinction as to religious belief, national origin or social status, must serve in the armed forces.3 However, compulsory military service no longer exists in practice. According to the government, under-18s are not accepted for military service.4

Military training and military schools

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 given to 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 level officers. Finally, a Senior Officer Training Program would be started at the Officers Academy.5 Minimum ages of entry into the schools were not known.

Child recruitment and deployment

In a speech in November 2003 Prime Minister Hun Sen referred to "sacrifices made by countrymen" who have allowed their "children, spouses and relatives" to serve in the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces.6 In 2003 UNICEF stated that, although children no longer appeared to be recruited, some of the children recruited during the 1993-99 civil conflict, now over 18, might have remained in the armed forces.7 The absence of an efficient birth registration system might have permitted under-18s to enter the armed forces in the past.8

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

A major demobilization program, aimed at reducing defence spending and increasing the budgets on health, education and rural development, began in 1999.9 Under a pilot project, 1,500 soldiers were demobilized in four provinces between May and July 2000. When full-scale demobilization began, an additional 15,000 former soldiers were demobilized between October and December 2001.10 Some US$18 million credit was approved via the World Bank in August 2001 for the program. In 2003 the credit was reduced and the government was required to return some of the funds already disbursed, after allegedly failing to follow agreed procedures in procuring goods for the demobilization packages.11 The program was critically evaluated at two conferences in June 2003.

In 2002 UNICEF reported that DDR programs in the region, including in Cambodia, had failed to make adequate provision for children. A former Cambodian child soldier told UNICEF he had assumed the identity of a dead adult soldier to gain access to the demobilization program.12

A joint government and UNICEF program introduced in 2001 aimed to address the educational needs of disadvantaged children, including child soldiers, by promoting better access to primary schools.13 Six former child soldiers interviewed by UNICEF indicated that they had attended school for an average of only about 15 months before they were recruited.14

Other developments

International standards

Cambodia ratified the Optional Protocol in July 2004. Its accompanying declaration stated simply that, as stipulated in Article 42 of the Law on the General Status of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, a male or female Cambodian citizen who has attained the age of 18 years could be recruited into the armed forces.15

1 Amnesty International Report 2004, http://web.

2 Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia (from UNDP database – not an official translation),

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

4 Initial report to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, op. cit.

5 Defence White Paper 2000, at Ministry of National Defense,

6 Remarks at 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, 6 November 2003, at Cambodia New Vision, official government newsletter,

7 UNICEF, Adult wars, child soldiers: Voices of children involved in armed conflict in the East Asia and Pacific Region, October 2002, (Publications); Information on civil conflict from The Statesman's Yearbook 2004, ed. Barry Turner, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.

8 Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia, UN Doc. E/CN.4/2001/103, 24 January 2001,

9 Dr Kao Kim Hourn, Military reform, demobilization and reintegration: measures for improving military reform and demobilization in Cambodia, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, 10-11 June 2002.

10 "Cambodia ends full-scale military demobilization for 2001", Japan Policy & Politics, 31 December 2001; NGO Forum on Cambodia, NGO statement to the 2002 consultative group meeting on Cambodia, 19-21 June 2002.

11 World Bank, Cambodia Office, Cambodia demobilization and reintegration project, 4 July 2003; UN Wire, "World Bank cuts loan for Cambodia's demobilization program", 9 July 2003.

12 UNICEF, op. cit.

13 Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, Education reform in Cambodia 2001: Government/UNICEF master plan, 2001,

14 UNICEF, op. cit.

15 Declaration of Cambodia on accession to the Optional Protocol, (subscription required).

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