Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 16:10 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Australia

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Australia, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 17 January 2018]
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: 20.2 million (4.8 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 51,600
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 17
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 26 September 2006
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182, ICC

As of mid-2007, there were nearly 500 under-18s serving in the armed forces, including girls.


Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel participated in a major government crackdown, which included forced medical examinations for children, on reported widespread child abuse among Aboriginal communities in 2007. This in turn prompted fears among the community members of a return to former assimilation policies that saw a "stolen generation" of children forcibly removed and placed with non-Aboriginal families.1

In July 2005 the government abandoned its policy of detaining child asylum seekers in high-security facilities, but unaccompanied children continued to be detained under guard, and criticism of the government's asylum and immigration policies continued.2


National recruitment legislation and practice

There was no conscription in Australia, but the 1903 Defence Act allowed for its introduction in time of war by a proclamation approved by both houses of parliament (Section 60). The minimum conscription age was specified as 18 (Section 59). The legal basis for voluntary recruitment was provided by the Defence Act (Article 34), the Naval Defence Act 1910 (Article 24) and the 1923 Air Force Act (Article 4E).3

The Defence Instructions of 2005 specified 17 as the minimum voluntary recruitment age for all three armed forces (Article 4). However, children could apply to join the armed forces at 16 years and 6 months. Children from the age of ten were encouraged to register their details with an online service that could put them in contact with armed forces recruitment officers.The Defence Instructions stated that all personnel wishing to join the armed forces had to present an original or certified copy of their birth certificate to their recruiting officer (Article 5) and that all under-18s had to have the written informed consent of their parents or guardians (Article 6). All applicants wishing to join the armed forces had to be fully informed of the nature of their future duties and responsibilities (Article 7), and the recruitment of all children had to be genuinely voluntary (Article 8).4

The Defence Instructions stated that the armed forces had to take "all feasible measures" to ensure that under-18s did not participate in hostilities (Article 10), and outlined a number of limited safeguards, including that under-18s should not be deployed in areas of operations where there was a likelihood of hostile action "to the maximum extent possible, and where it will not adversely impact on the conduct of operations" (Article 11). However, a commander was not obliged to remove an under-18 from direct participation in hostilities in certain circumstances, including "where it would prejudice the effectiveness of the mission" (Article 13).5

Australia's declaration on ratification of the Optional Protocol in 2006 stated that the minimum age of voluntary recruitment was 17; that proper documentation of age and informed consent of parents or guardians of under-18s were required; that all applicants be fully informed of their duties and responsibilities; and that recruiting officers had to be satisfied that applications for enlistment of under-18s were on a "genuinely voluntary basis".6

Following ratification of the Optional Protocol, the Criminal Code Act (1995) was amended in 2007 to provide for a series of criminal penalties for individuals who used, conscripted or enlisted children under the age of 15 into the national armed forces or under the age of 18 into a force or group other than the national armed forces in both international or non-international armed conflicts.7

In October 2005 the Defence Force Ombudsman released the report from his investigation into the management and administration of under-age personnel in the armed forces. It included a recommendation that the forces undertake an analysis of the costs and benefits of accepting children for enlistment in the ADF, with a view to determining whether the enlistment age should be raised to 18 years. The Defence Department disagreed with the recommendation, claiming that to raise the minimum age would "severely restrict the quality and quantity of recruits".8

Military training and military schools

In its declaration on ratification of the Optional Protocol in 2006, Australia stated that the minimum voluntary recruitment age of 17 did not apply to military schools. Nor did it apply to cadet schemes, "members of which are not recruited into, and are therefore not members of, the ADF".9

The Australian Defence Force Cadets describes itself as a "community-based youth development organization" of 22,000 cadets and 2,100 cadet staff in 475 units and squadrons across Australia, funded by the government through the Department of Defence. The minimum age of recruitment is 12 years and 6 months for navy and army cadets, and 13 for air force cadets. Training included weapons handling. The cadet force was considered a path to a defence career, and "a safe and fun military-like experience".10

Child recruitment and deployment

As of 27 July 2007, there were a total of 486 under-18s serving in the armed forces, including 62 girls. The government stated that it had no record of children being deployed into areas of operations.11

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

The government was providing Australian $200,000 to help UNICEF and the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict undertake the ten-year strategic review of the 1996 Machel study, "The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children".12


International standards

Australia ratified the Optional Protocol in September 2006, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in July 2002 and ILO Convention 182 in December 2006.13

1 Reuters, "Australia's Aborigines fear losing children", 26 June 2007.

2 Children out of Detention,; Mary Crock, Seeking Asylum Alone: Australia, Harvard, 2006,

3 Commonwealth of Australia Law,

4 Department of Defence, "Recruitment and employment of members under 18 years in the Australian Defence Force", Defence Instructions (General), 4 July 2005; "Underage candidates"; "Recruitment and employment of members under 18 years in the Australian Defence Force", Defence Instructions (General), 4 July 2005; all at

5 Department of Defence, "Recruitment and employment of members under 18 years in the Australian Defence Force", above note 4.

6 Declaration on ratification of the Optional Protocol,

7 Commonwealth of Australia Law, above note 3.

8 Commonwealth and Defence Force Ombudsman, "Australian Defence Force: management of service personnel under the age of 18 years", October 2005,

9 Declaration, above note 6.

10 Department of Defence, Defence Force Cadets,

11 Child Soldiers Coalition correspondence with Ministry of Defence, October 2007.

12 Ibid.

13 Ratification of the Optional Protocol, above note 6; ICC Assembly of States Parties,; International Labour Standards, (ilolex database).

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