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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Australia

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Australia, 2001, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
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: 18,705,000
    – under-18s: 4,687,000
  • Government armed forces113
    – active: 51,018
    – active reserves: 27,300
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 16
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government armed forces – 890 in government armed forces in 1999-2000
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: GC; CRC
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces as there is no minimum age for voluntary recruitment in legislation. In practice the Australian Defence Forces recruit at 17 and in exceptional cases 16. A projected expansion of troop numbers, combined with recruitment and retention problems, is likely to ensure this policy continues. Guidelines have been issued to prevent the deployment of personnel under 18, but some under-18s were deployed with Australian peacekeeping forces to East Timor. Recent cases of bastardisation and ill-treatment in the armed forces raise concerns for young recruits.


National Recruitment Legislation

Apart from a general defence provision there is no reference in the Constitution or national legislation providing for conscription in peacetime. Compulsory military service was abolished in December 1972 by administrative action, and was reflected in the National Service Termination Act one year later. Accordingly, military recruitment is carried out on a voluntary basis as provided for in Article 34 of the 1903 Defence Act,114 Article 24 of the 1910 Naval Defence Act,115 and Article 4E of the 1923 Air Force Act.116 No minimum age is specified in any of these laws.

In a reply to a parliamentary question on 23 March 1999 the junior Minister for Defence stated that 17 is the minimum age for recruitment into the Australian Defence Forces and in the reserves, "[h]owever, an age waiver may be given if an applicant is deemed to have the maturity and potential suitability to adjust to Service life."117 According to the official website of the Australian Defence Force, volunteers may enter the Australian Regular Army, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Airforce at the age of 17 through a number of programmes. Members of the Active Reserve in any of the three services must be between 17 and 35 years of age. In the case of the Army Reserve, under-18s must have the written consent of their parents or legal guardians. A birth certificate is required as evidence of the date of birth.118

The 1903 Defence Act allows for the introduction of conscription in wartime. Part IV of the Defence Act provides that in such a situation, the Governor-General may, by proclamation, call upon persons to serve in the Defence Force in accordance with the Defence Act for the duration of the war. However, since the adoption of the Defence Legislation Amendment Act 1992 conscription cannot be carried out without prior approval of both houses of Parliament.119

In the event of conscription, all persons between 18 and 60 years of age who have resided in Australia for more than six months are liable for military service. Exemption is possible for medical reasons, conscientious objection or for members of certain professional bodies.

Child Recruitment

In 1998 the government reported that in practice no one under age 17 is recruited into any of the three services.120 But given the absence of legislation setting a minimum age for voluntary recruitment, this policy is not hard and fast. An Australian Army official confirmed in 1999 that: "There is one exception for the enlistment age rule and that is for young school-leavers seeking entry into the Australian Defence Force Academy to undertake university and officer training studies. Because there is only one entry per year and because of the variation in school-leaving age across Australia, a very small number of cadets are not yet 17 when they arrive at the Academy. The exemptions are positively given and for example only four of this year's intake of 150 were not yet 17 on arrival, and all have since reached the milestone. In any case, persons below the age of 18 need written consent from parents or guardians."121

At the end of 1997, the government reported 925 personnel under the age of 18 within the armed forces, 18 per cent of whom were female.122 In March 1999, there were 295 uniformed personnel under the age of 18 years in the Australian Defence Force.123

In 1999-2000 financial year the number of ADF recruits was 25% (more than 1,300) short of the target figure. That year there were 115 under-18 female recruits and 4,453 under-18 male recruits, comprising a total of 5,235 or 17% of all ADF recruits.

Table 1: Number of ADF recruits below age 18 in 1999-2000124

Recruits all ages34828393187
Recruits under 1867558625
Per centage of under-18 recruits to total recruits19%20%20%
Recruits all ages210682892
Recruits under 1835123158
Per centage of under-18 recruits to total recruits17%18%18%
Air Force
Recruits all ages2249321156
Recruits under 181394107
Per centage of under-18 recruits to total recruits6%10%9%
ADF Totals
Recruits all ages78244535235
Recruits under 18115775890
Per centage of under-18 recruits to total recruits15%17%17%

Children of a younger age may participate in cadet forces established for each of the three services, often as a prelude to military recruitment,125 but are not considered members of the armed forces.126 The current rules governing cadet forces are the Cadet Forces regulations of 1977. Section 7(1) of these regulations establishes a minimum age of 12½ for joining the cadet forces, with parent's or guardian's permission .127 In total the Australian Services Cadet Scheme comprises 25,000 members in 417 units throughout Australia.128

The ADF spends $24 million annually on the cadet scheme and plans to increase this to $30 million in 2002 in order to increase the number of cadets.129 22% of ADF full-time personnel and 25% of reservists begin their association with the ADF through cadets.130 Former cadets also remain in the services for comparatively longer periods, and a high proportion reach senior rank.

A new Defence Paper (December 2000) places continued emphasis on the Australian Services Cadet Scheme (ASCS) to encourage and prepare children for military careers: "The Government's vision for the ASCS is to provide opportunities for all young Australians [aged 12½ and above] to obtain comprehensive personal challenges and growth, enhanced self-esteem and self-discipline, and adventurous enjoyment in a military setting."131

Child Deployment in hostilities

The Chief of the Defence Force (CDF) issued a directive on 31 May 1999 which formalised a practice of not using members under 18 years old in hostilities. The CDF's directive stated that the ADF will take all feasible measures to ensure persons under 18 years old do not engage in conflict. To ensure this:

  • Members under 18 years old may not deploy with a unit called out for hostilities;
  • Members under 18 years old should not be deployed to an area where hostile action is likely; and
  • If a member under 18 years old is unexpectedly caught up in hostilities, that member is to be taken to a safe area without undue delay.132

Evidence emerged, however, of cases of under-18s being deployed with Australian forces in East Timor in September 1999.133 ADF personnel are currently deployed in East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands.


The Crimes (Foreign Incursions and Recruitment) Act 1978 prohibits Australian citizens or residents from preparing for, or engaging in, hostile activities in foreign countries. The Act also aims to prevent, subject to limited exceptions, the recruiting in Australia of individuals to service in or with the armed forces of foreign States, and applies to the activities of both adults and children.134

In the past year, ill-treatment and illegal punishments against at least 30 soldiers in 1997-1998 serving with the Australian parachute battalion, the 3rd Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) were exposed, raising concerns about the welfare of 17 year-old recruits within the army. The army responded by instituting training against 'bastardisation' activities and a telephone hotline for complaints Charges were laid against one officer and 10 other ranks of the 3RAR under the Military Discipline Act.135 A federal parliamentary committee is separately investigating allegations of rape, assault and racial vilification in the military. It was also revealed that soldiers in 3RAR had been involved with neo-Nazi and other extreme right-wing political groups.


International Standards

Australia has not yet signed the CRC-OP-CAC. The Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence informed the Australian Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers on 10 January 2001 "the Government is now giving serious consideration to signing the Optional Protocol and agreement has been reached at the level of officials to recommend to Ministers that Australia sign the Protocol." The letter stated that "The final text [of the Optional Protocol] is consistent with Australia's position" indicating that Australia will continue to maintain 17 as the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into the Australian Defence Forces.

Future Military Plans

On 6 December 2000 the government published a paper on the future of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) over the next decade,136 which recommends an increase in the size of the Australian Defence Forces from 51,500 to 54,000 by 2010. Given the difficulties already experienced in retaining members of the ADF, these plans mean the government is likely to continue to accept 17 year old recruits in the forseeable future. The Defence Paper acknowledges the greater maturity required of personnel in peacekeeping operations.

113 ABSW, "Defence Personnel", 2000 figures.

114 Defence Act 1903, Act No. 20 of 1903 as amended.

115 Naval Defence Act 1910, Act No. 30 of 1910 as amended.

116 Air Force Act 1923, Act No. 33 of 1923 as amended.

117 Question on Notice: Australian Defence Force: Age restrictions, House Hansard, 23/3/99.

118 Information on recruitment:

119 Section 60 (5) of the Defence Act.

120 Communication from the Australian Department of Defence, Canberra, to QUNO, 5/1/98.

121 Mellor, Brig. W.J.A., "The defence of the recruits", One world, one word: stop child soldiers, Conference on the Use of Child Soldiers, Australian Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 9/99.

122 Australian Department of Defence Canberra, 5/1/98 op. cit.

123 Question on Notice, 23/3/99 op. cit.

124 Letter from Brad Fallen, Defence Adviser, Officer of the Minister for Veteran's Affairs and Minister Assisting the Minister of Defence, to Australian Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 26/3/01.

125 For more information see the Australian Services Cadet Scheme's web site: Section 62 of the Defence Act 1903 states that there shall be an Australian Cadet Corps; Section 38 of the Naval Defence Act 1910 provides for the Naval Reserve Cadets; and Section 8 of the Air Force Act 1923 establishes the Air Training Corps.

126 Section 62(4) of the Defence Act 1903; Section 38(4) of the Naval Defence Act 1910; Section 8(4) of the Air Force Act 1923.

127 Section 7(1) of the Cadet Forces Regulations.

128 "Defence 2000...", op. cit.

129 Bantick, C., "Bastardisation begins in the cadets", The Age, 22/12/00 and "Defence 2000..." op. cit.

130 Bantick, C., op. cit.

131 "Defence 2000..." op. cit.

132 Correspondence from The Hon Bruce Scott, Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence, to Melanie Gow, 3/12/99.

133 Information provided by World Vision Australia, 12/4/00.

134 Brad Fallen op. cit.

135 Woodley, B., "Army admits discipline problems", The Australian, 12 December 2000.

136 "Defence 2000..." op. cit.

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