Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Austria
|Publisher||Child Soldiers International|
|Publication Date||20 May 2008|
|Cite as||Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Austria, 20 May 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/486cb0e522.html [accessed 13 October 2015]|
Population: 8.2 million (1.6 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 39,600
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 17 (training only)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 1 February 2002
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC
Voluntary recruitment was allowed for 17-year-olds. The precise number of under-18s in the armed forces was not available. Legislation ruled out the participation of under-18s in active service.
National recruitment legislation and practice
The constitution and the 1990 National Defence Act provided the basis for compulsory military service.1 According to the National Defence Act, all Austrian men were required to register for compulsory military service during the calendar year in which they became 18. Recruitment orders could not be served earlier than six months following the decision on fitness for service by a recruitment commission. The National Defence Act also allowed for voluntary recruitment to the Austrian armed forces at the age of 17 – although the explicit consent of parents or guardians was required. Volunteers under 18 could enter the armed forces for training purposes only, and any deployment overseas of 17-year-olds was prohibited. The Act on Dispatching of Soldiers for Assistance Abroad allowed for voluntary requests for international deployment to be made only at the age of 19. According to a 2003 National Defence Act amendment, women could volunteer for military training and "functional services" in the armed forces, but were prohibited from participation in armed conflict.2 The length of ordinary military service was currently six months. Precise figures on the number of volunteers under the age of 18 currently serving in the armed forces were unavailable, but the current figure was believed to be very low.3 A 2001 amendment to the National Defence Act explicitly banned "the direct participation of persons under the age of 18 in direct hostilities". According to the Austrian government, "the term 'direct participation' is interpreted in a restrictive manner and does not include acts such as gathering and transmission of military information, transportation of arms and munitions, provision of supplies, etc.".4
The Austrian Penal Code "prohibits and criminalizes the recruitment and use of persons of any age in hostilities by armed groups that are distinct from the armed forces".5
Military training and military schools
Although the Austrian government stated that there were no schools in the country directly operated by the armed forces, the Militaerrealgymnasium, located in Wiener Neustadt, "offers students from age 14 a higher secondary education with a specialization in natural sciences and a military-led boarding school. The school is supervised by the general school authorities in all relevant aspects. The boarding school is governed by internal rules under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Defence."6
Although it was not an exclusive aim, preparation for a military career as an officer was certainly one of the institution's stated purposes. The government stated that the students of the school were not considered to be members of the armed forces, and emphasized that the pursuit of a military career following graduation was not compulsory.7 In its January 2005 examination of Austria's initial report on implementation of the Optional Protocol, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that students at the school were referred to as "cadets". The Committee went on to request the following: "With regard to incentives for recruitment, and in light of the fact that a significant proportion of new recruits in the armed forces come from the cadet forces, the Committee requests the State party, in its next report, to include more detailed information and statistics on its military school and the cadet forces ... and on recruitment activities undertaken by the armed forces within the cadet forces."8 In its report to the Committee, the government stated that training in international law and the rights of the child was being included in the preparation of Austrian soldiers for overseas missions. Austrian peacekeepers were also given particular instruction relevant to the place of their deployment – as in the case of two armed forces personnel whose preparatory training included specific attention to the issue of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The curriculum of the Militaerrealgymnasium also included instruction in the basics of international humanitarian law.9
At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, Austria 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.
1 Quaker Council for European Affairs, The Right to Conscientious Objection to Military Service in Europe: A Review of the Current Situation, April 2005.
2 Initial report of Austria to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights on the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/AUT/1, 8 July 2004.
3 Information from the defence attaché, Austrian embassy, London, September 2007.
4 Initial report, above note 2.
8 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Austria on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/CO/2, January 2005.
9 Initial report, above note 2.