Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 17:20 GMT

Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Bangladesh

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Bangladesh, 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: 126,947,000
    – under-18s: 55,733,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 137,000
    – paramilitary: 55,200
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 16
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated – some 3 % of government armed forces are under 18 (3,374 in 1999);179 children are also used by armed opposition groups and criminal gangs.
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed 6 September 2000; ratified 6 September 2000; does not support "straight-18"
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II.
  • Although Bangladesh was one of the first countries to ratify the Optional Protocol, there are indications of children active in government forces as the minimum age for recruitment is only 16. The increasing criminalisation and militarisation of Bangladeshi children and the proliferation of small arms in the country is a matter of concern.


Since 1976, indigenous peoples known as the Jumma in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) in south-eastern Bangladesh have been in conflict with Bengali settlers and the Bangladeshi security forces.180 A peace treaty was signed in December 1997 but implementation has proved slow and problematic and sporadic violence continues. There are a number of other armed groups operating in Bangladesh including groups from neighbouring countries.


National Recruitment Legislation

Conscription has never existed in Bangladesh, although the 1952 Bangladesh Army Act reportedly allows for its introduction.181 According to information provided by the government, the minimum legal enlistment age in the Army is 16 years for soldiers and 17 years for cadet officers; in the Navy, 17 years for seamen and 16½ years for cadet officers; in the Air Force, 16½ years for both airmen and cadet officers.182

At the Asia-Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers in Kathmandu in May 2000, the Bangladeshi Government representative stated: "At present, the minimum age of recruitment is 16 with parental consent. However, after recruitment, servicemen and officers undergo a period of training varying from six months to two years."183 Officer candidates attend a two-year officer-training course at the Bangladesh Military Academy at Bhatiary near Chittagong.184 Voluntary applications to join the armed forces are believed to be sufficient usually to achieve the requisite number of recruits.185

Child Recruitment

It is difficult to obtain information about the total number of under 18 year olds in the armed forces. An estimated 3 per cent of personnel in the armed forces are under eighteen. Figures for 1999 show that there were 3374 recruits under 18 in the armed forces.186 Other sources point out however that there are only a small number of children under 18 actually serving as soldiers. Officers, because of the length of training, would be over 18 by the time they graduate.187

Military Training and Military Schools

Military training involves 6 months in a training centre and 2 to 3 months in the respective unit or regiment. Under 18 year old recruits undergo the same training and on completion are required to perform duties like other soldiers. Recruits are not considered part of the armed forces until they have completed training.188 According to NGO sources, young people can join a Cadet College after completing 6th grade for education from 7th up to 12th grade. There are reportedly 10 such cadet colleges in Bangladesh, one exclusively for girls. Students follow the national curriculum but also receive military training. This training is voluntary and is restricted to elementary level only. After completing their studies, students are not obliged to join the army but generally do so.189


Shanti Bahini (Peace Force) was created in 1972 after the independence of Bangladesh, initially as a political organisation (Jana Samhati Samiti). Its aims were to obtain greater autonomy for the CHT, the withdrawal of the Bangladesh Armed Forces, and the expulsion of the 400,000 Muslim Bengalis who had moved into the region. The Shanti Bahini was reportedly formally abolished in 1999 in the wake of the CHT peace settlement. Child soldiers have clearly participated in this conflict but few details are available. A report from 1997 asserted that "Jumma children have been tortured, forced to watch the torture of their parents, and forced to participate in torture,"190 but it is unclear if these activities were carried out within the framework of Shanti Bahini activities or those of other groups.

There are a range of other non-state actors active in the country, many of whom are believed to use children in armed activities. These include the armed cadres of political groups such as the UPDF in Chittagong, the mainstream political parties, left-wing activists, criminal syndicates, and some groups from nearby countries such as the Indian ULFA and Burmese Rohingya.


At the Asia-Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers in Kathmandu in May 2000, NGO representatives expressed concern about the militarisation of children under 18 by political parties, student movements, religious organisations and private criminal gangs. An estimated 35-45,000 children are believed to be involved with criminal gangs engaged in arms and drug trading, toll collection, smuggling, prostitution and trafficking in women and children. Another major concern is the proliferation of small arms in the country. According to one survey in 2000, up to 42 per cent of illegal small arms in the country are in the hands of children under the age of 18.191 A recent update of this study shows that there are roughly between 50,000 and 60,000 illegal small arms in use in Bangladesh as of December 2000.192


International Standards

The Bangladeshi government signed and ratified the CRC-OP-AC but does not support a "straight-18" position. A declaration made at the time of ratification states that although under 18 year olds would be recruited into the armed forces, a number of safeguards were in place to check that such recruitment was voluntary. Furthermore, as two years compulsory training was required this ensured that under 18 year olds would not be assigned to combat units. The Bangladeshi government has played an active role internationally in promoting the CRC-OP-AC: at the July 2000 Security Council debate on children and armed conflict, the Bangladeshi delegation supported initiatives to declare "child-soldier free zones" in affected areas of the world.193


Some members of the Shanti Bahini have been integrated into police and paramilitary forces, but there is no separate programme for the rehabilitation of child soldiers in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In addition, nearly 1,200 armed activists of several left-wing armed groups have surrendered to the current government. Some of them have been integrated into paramilitary forces but there is no specific rehabilitation programme for children. Some 24 members of the Shanti Bahini and 32 members of the armed left-wing groups who surrendered to the government have been killed by groups opposed to peace/surrender.

179 Communication from Dr. M. Masum, Jahangirnagar University to CSC on 24/4/01 and based on information provided by Major General Jamil D. Ahsan, Director General, Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies.

180 Balencie and de La Grange, op. cit. p. 752.

181 According to section 7 of the Act, in times of emergency the government may declare that any individual or category of individuals are on active service. Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

182 Communication from the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to QUNO, 17/11/97.

183 Statement by Bangladesh Government representative at Asia-Pacific concference on the use of children as soldiers, Kathmandu, May 2000. In a press conference after the release of the UNICEF Progress of Nations report in July 1999, the Bangladesh Finance Secretary and Health Secretary had claimed the minimum age for military recruitment was 18.

184 See unofficial web site on the armed forces:

185 Horeman, B. & Stolwijk, M., op. cit.

186 M. Masum op. cit.

187 Bangladesh National Coalition. op. cit.

188 M. Masum op. cit.

189 Information provided to Asia-Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Kathmandu, May 2000.

190 Minority Rights Group International, War: The Impact on Minority and Indigenous Children, Report 97/2.

191 Research survey on small arms and children, Bangladesh Development Partnership Centre.

192 According to the Daily Prothom Alo there are between 100,000 and 200,000 illegal small arms in the country, of which 50,000 are in Dhaka – Prothom Alo – November 14, 1998.

193 UN press release, 26 July 2000.

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