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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - New Zealand

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - New Zealand, 2001, available at: [accessed 11 December 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: 3,828,000
    – under-18s: 1,035,000
  • Government armed forces:1340
    – active: 9,230
    – reserves: 5,4901341
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 17
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated – some 40%-50% of annual recruits
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 7 September 2000; does not support "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ICC
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces. New Zealand permits recruitment from 17 but legislation prohibits the deployment of recruits until they have reached the age of majority.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

There is no provision relating to military service in the New Zealand Constitution and conscription is not currently practised. It was abolished in 1973 upon repeal of the Military Service Act. Section 11 of the Defence Act of 1990 provides that additional army, naval and air forces may be raised by the Governor-General in time of war or other similar emergency.1342

In its Initial State Report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1995 New Zealand stated that under Section 36 of the Defence Act 1990,1343 enlistment in the armed forces without parental consent is possible at 18 years of age, and with parental consent at 16 years and 6 months both in the Navy and the Air Force and at 17 years and 6 months in the Army.1344 However, Section 36 does not specify any minimum age, it only requires written consent from parents or guardians if the enlisted person 'is a minor'.

The Defence Act contains age limits on the deployment of members of the armed forces outside New Zealand. Section 37 of the Act states that: "No person serving in the Army or the Air Force shall be liable for active service outside New Zealand while that person is under 18 years of age," and that: "[n]o person serving in the Navy shall be liable for active service outside New Zealand while that person is under 16 years and 6 months of age. The person who gives his/her consent according to Section 36 of the Defence Act for the recruitment of a minor must be aware of this liability for active service."1345 The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed to the Coalition in April 2001 that "it is proposed to amend the Defence Act 1990 to prohibit the use, in active service, of members of the armed forces who are under the age of 18 years.1346

The minimum age of 17 for voluntary recruitment is established by a Defence Force Order which has the power of subordinate legislation.1347 In April 2001, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed "we are currently considering the policy issues related to (voluntary recruitment), with a view to implementing a minimum voluntary recruitment age of 17 years".1348

The change in national legislation is reflected on the Army web site, which declares that the minimum age required to be a regular force soldier, regular force officer, or soldier in the Territorials1349 is 17 years.1350 There is no mention of the minimum age for recruitment, however, on the Navy or Air Force web sites.

Child Recruitment

According to the authorities, the number of under-18s voluntarily recruited could be as high as 40-50% in any one year. It is claimed, however, that 17-year-olds tend to be in training until the age of 18 years and, in their relations with adult soldiers, are treated in the same way as other soldiers of equivalent rank.1351

There is currently no specific legislation prohibiting the activities of non-governmental armed groups. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated in April 2001, "we are considering whether existing legislation relating to criminal offending would adequately cover situations relating to armed groups".1352

Military Training and Military Schools

There are reportedly no military schools in New Zealand,1353 however, there are cadet forces in regular schools. According to the 1990 Defence Act, cadet forces include the Sea Cadet Corps, the New Zealand Cadet Corps, and the Air Training Corps. Cadet forces are not members of the armed forces.1354 They are regulated in Part VI of the 1990 Defence Act. According to Section 77 of this Act the cadet forces shall have the following functions: "(a) the conduct of training courses or training programmes similar to those undertaken by the Armed Forces: (b) the promotion of an appreciation among members of the cadet forces of the functions and operation of the Armed Forces; (c) the development of good citizenship among members of the cadet forces". Members of the cadet forces must be between 13 and 18 years of age and still at secondary school. Cadets are provided with a wide range of activities, from class room lessons, physical and recreational activities, to civil defence and drill.1355 According to official sources, as of mid-1998, there were 100 cadet units with more than 300 officers and about 5,000 cadets throughout the country.


International Standards

New Zealand signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 7 September 2000 but does not support a "straight-18" position. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed in April 2001 that "New Zealand hopes to ratify the Optional Protocol as soon as we have completed the relevant domestic procedures".1356 NZ Prime Minister, Helen Clark, participated in a special ceremony organised by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers at the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000.

1340 According to the New Zealand Permanent Mission in Geneva the most accurate figures are the following: Army: 4,395; Navy: 2,077; Air Force: 2,923 – Reservists: Army: 3,180; Navy: 416; Air Force: 46. Letter from the New Zealand Permanent Mission, Geneva, to CSC, 17/11/99.

1341 Total number of reserves as of May 2000 was 2915 according to a communication from New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 6/00. Figure given in the text is taken from IISS.

1342 New Zealand Permanent Mission, 17/11/99 op. cit.

1343 Defence Act 1990-028 of 1/4/90.

1344 Initial State Report of New Zealand to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/28/Add. 3, 12/10/95, paras. 26 and 337.

1345 Section 36 (4)(b) of the Defence Act.

1346 Letter from Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Hon. Phil Goff, to CSC, 12/4/01.

1347 Para. 2.4 of Defence Order 4 of 22/1/97. "Minimum age for recruitment into armed forces raised. New Zealand Executive Government News Release, 22/1/97; New Zealand Permanent Mission, 17/11/99; Communication from New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 6/00.

1348 Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 12/4/01.

1349 The Territorials are men and women who make up the Army's reserve force. The Territorial Army is a group of specially-trained part-time officers and soldiers who can be called upon to help in emergency situations.


1351 New Zealand Permanent Mission, 17/11/99, op. cit.

1352 Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 12/4/01,op. cit.

1353 Ibid.

1354 Section 2 of the 1990 Defence Act.

1355 For an example of a cadet unit, see the web site of the Hamilton City Cadet Unit (official homepage):; or the web site of the 17 Squadron Air Training Corps (unofficial homepage):

1356 Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 112/4/01 op. cit.

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