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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Russian Federation

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Russian Federation, 2004, 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.

Russian Federation

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 144.1 million (31.0 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 960,600 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 18 (16 training only)
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 15 February 2001
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ILO 138, ILO 182

Forcible conscription was reported, and the possibility of under-18s being among the conscripts could not be ruled out. Voluntary recruits in military training schools were considered to be on active service. Tens of thousands of orphans aged 14 to 16 were "adopted" by military units, receiving military training in school and many of them living in army barracks. Military training programs were provided in some secondary schools. In the Chechen Republic, boys were involved with a number of armed political groups and girls were reportedly used in suicide bombings.


Russian forces and Chechen fighters committed serious abuses in the continuing conflict in the Chechen Republic (Chechnya). Russian forces carried out targeted operations and raids on towns and villages in Chechnya which were routinely accompanied by abuses including arbitrary and incommunicado detention, "disappearance", extortion of bribes for release, torture, extrajudicial execution, rape and looting. Large numbers of Chechens, particularly men and boys, were killed or "disappeared" following such raids. Chechen fighters also committed serious human rights abuses, reportedly targeting pro- Moscow members of the civilian administration in Chechnya, and were allegedly responsible for bombings that caused indiscriminate harm to civilians. The media and international human rights monitors were under restrictions imposed by the Russian authorities in Chechnya and it was virtually impossible for local human rights groups to operate. There were a number of bombings which killed or injured civilians in Russia and in October 2002 a hostage-taking incident in a Moscow theatre where some hostages were killed by their captors, which were allegedly linked to the conflict in Chechnya.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution provides for conscription (Article 59).2 Under the Law on Military Duty and Military Service, as amended, boys must register for the draft before the end of March in the year in which they reach 17. Those aged between 18 and 27 are subject to the draft, which lasts 24 months or 12 months for graduates. Candidates for voluntary military service must be 18 and conscripts may transfer from compulsory to voluntary service after six months (Article 34). The 1997 Law on Mobilization Preparations and Mobilization, which sets out liabilities for call up and military service, states that only those subject to federal conscription laws – that is, 18 year olds – are eligible to be called for service.3 There were no reports of under-18s being called up for military service.

However, underage conscription remained a possibility. There was widespread draft dodging and corruption in the enforcement of the draft. Forcible conscription was also reported.4 Conditions for conscripts were harsh, resulting in a high number of desertions and non-combat deaths – at least 1,200 in 2003.5 Conscripts lacked adequate living and working conditions, and were often subjected to degrading physical and psychological abuse (dedovshchina).6 After the military authorities in Saratov Oblast published the names of draft dodgers in the local press, the regional Committee of Soldiers' Mothers was reported as pointing out that such lists published in the past had included the names of boys under the age of 18.7

Military 'adoption' of orphans

A project for the military to "adopt" or sponsor orphans, homeless children and children from single-parent families was implemented from 1997 and formalized by presidential decree in 2000. The regulation, entitled "On enrolling underage citizens of the Russian Federation as wards of military units and providing them with essential allowances", permits boys between the ages of 14 and 16 to be voluntarily enrolled and attached to military units.8 The government has argued that army sponsorship provides accommodation and education in a country where an estimated three million children are orphaned – the term being used to include fatherless or abandoned children – and where social services face grave financial constraints.9 The program has been criticized for inflicting harsh conditions on children and exposing them to the risks of bullying, other abuse and the hazards of military training.

Recent figures were unavailable, but the Defence Minister said in 1999 that Russian military institutions were accommodating 35,000 orphans and homeless children, and that 12,000 were receiving "full room and board and [were] enlisted in logistics units, military orchestras and cadet schools housed in ... disbanded military academies".10 This figure appeared to include an estimated 5,000 students enrolled at official military training establishments, not all of whom were orphans.11 During the late 1990s another 7,000 reportedly lived permanently on military bases. The remaining 23,000 were non-permanent residents, many of them attached to military units on a part-time basis, to attend summer training camps or to obtain food. Together, these children formed "boys' squads" which were reportedly integrated to varying degrees into regular units of the Russian army.12

In February 2003 the Kineshma army base in Central Russia was reported to have recently housed a 12 year old, although the other boys there were at least 14. They spent their days in school but their weekends and time before and after school were devoted to military duties, including learning to use and care for gas masks and firearms.13

Military training and military schools

Under the Law on Military Duty and Military Service, boys aged 16 may obtain vocational training at military educational establishments, where they "acquire the status of military persons, doing military service under the draft", and may voluntarily sign up for service once they reach 18 (Article 35). From the age of 17, they may enrol for military training programs at vocational schools, and members of the Cadet Corps and other such bodies may begin training, so that once the draft begins they may choose a branch of the armed services on the basis of an acquired level of competence (Article 15).

There are numerous dedicated military secondary schools for the "military training of minor citizens" (Article 19). They include eight Suvorov schools, which admit orphans and other students from the age of 11, and whose motto is "Give your life to the motherland, but your honour to no-one". Students usually go on to further military education.14

An academy opened by the Moscow Tax Police in September 2000 reportedly had an entrance age of ten years old. The Moscow Tax Police Cadet Corps, made up of the 200 students, many of whom were orphans, reportedly lived at the academy, wore military uniforms and followed a strict regime that included drill, weekly weapons handling and intensive military and physical training at a summer camp.15

In ordinary secondary schools, the Law on Military Duty and Military Service requires that boys "shall pass training in the military fundamentals", civil defence and knowledge of military duty in their final two years (Articles 12 and 13). The law also makes provision for obligatory military training and "patriotic upbringing" for schoolchildren (Article 14).16

A Basic Military Training program, introduced in secondary schools in September 1999, was only partially implemented, and legislation to introduce combat training and military history in schools for 15-year-old boys was reportedly introduced shortly after Vladimir Putin assumed the presidency in December 1999.17 In October 2003 the parliament (Duma) passed the first reading of an amended education law that would harmonize education and military service laws and establish the legal basis for compulsory military training in schools.18 It was unclear whether the amendment had passed its third reading by March 2004.

Despite these legal measures, it seemed likely that military training in schools would not be consistently applied throughout the country and would remain voluntary. Media reports occasionally reported school training programs. In September 2003, 16-year-old Alexander Bochanov reportedly died in the Khanty-Mansiisk region after he was allegedly not allowed to remove his gas mask following a late-night 10 km run. A military instructor was cleared of any criminal offence and the activity was deemed a legitimate element of the school curriculum.19 In early 2004 schoolboys were observed assembling Kalashnikov rifles.20

Detention and killing of Chechen children

Boys suspected to be Chechen rebels have been targeted by the Russian army and have "disappeared" in custody or been killed.21 During "cleansing" operations (zachistki), Russian troops have repeatedly closed off villages and districts, ostensibly to identify participants in the armed opposition. Boys were reported to be particularly vulnerable and were routinely rounded up, sent to "filtration camps" and tortured.22 One 16 year old, after being tortured in a "filtration camp", said "I was relieved when they took us out to be shot".23

In 2002 the official with responsibility for children's rights in Chechnya's pro-Russian administration stated that over 90 children had "disappeared" over the preceding year in cases "directly linked to actions by the military" during zachistki operations. Military officials responded that the children had been eliminated because they had collaborated with rebel fighters.24 One of the highest-ranking commanders in Chechnya, General Vladimir Shamanov, when asked "Is the child of a bandit also a bandit?", responded "Certainly".25

Armed political groups

Lack of access to Chechnya, and restrictions on monitoring and reporting made it impossible to determine accurately the numbers of child soldiers in opposition forces. Available information indicated that boys participated in a number of armed political groups, including the main Chechen armed opposition, Islamist groups and village-based defence units. Some girls under 18 were reportedly used as suicide bombers. Boys were also believed to be involved in criminal gangs of under-18s, which were sometimes attached to local fighters seeking to profit from the war economy.26 Enlistment was frequently in response to human rights violations by Russian forces, but was also a survival strategy in an economy destroyed by more than a decade of armed conflict.27

Opposition to Russian rule

There is no conscription or compulsory recruitment into rebel groups, according to Ilyas Akhmadov, spokesperson of the Chechen armed opposition. Akhmadov stated that "several dozen under-18s may have participated in resistance operations" although younger children who attempted to join were "in most instances ... returned to their parents". Akhmadov also stated that the children "were moved to join the fighters because of the [January 2000] announcement that the Federal forces would consider any [Chechen] male from 10 to 60 years old to be possible combatants".28 Others also stated that the involvement of children in rebel groups is voluntary.29

Military sources in mid-2002 said that an increasing number of youths aged from 18 to 25, some of them as young as 14, were among the fighters and involved in the fighting.30 In July 2002 a Russian general was reported to have noted the large numbers of Chechen boys aged about 15 or 16 among those killed by a military operation to crush a rebel detachment.31 A Chechen surgeon reported in 2003 that his 15-year-old nephew had begun slipping away to join the fighters because many of his friends were already with them, the schools were no longer functioning and he felt useless sitting at home.32

Chechen armed groups reportedly used under-18s, particularly girls, in suicide bombings. In May 2003 prosecutors announced the arrest of a woman and a 16-year-old girl in Chechnya's Shatoi district in connection with the recruitment of women and girls involved in the October 2002 Moscow theatre siege, who reportedly included a 16 year old.33 At the end of 2002 a man and his 15-year-old daughter and 17-yearold son reportedly carried out a suicide attack in Chechnya's capital, Grozny.34 In September 2003 women were reported to be training in the Vedeno region for such bomb attacks, among them a 15-year-old girl who was being "prepared" by an older man.35

Self-defence units

Boys reportedly joined village and district self-defence units although it was unclear how widespread such groups were in 2004.36 The units were made up of members of extended families (teipy), and boys were occasionally involved in fighting alongside their friends and families to protect their villages from Russian forces and rival armed groups.37 One observer saw a 15 year old fighting at the side of his relatives in a small independent unit in Samashki. Several armed youths were posted on guard duty. In one unit, members' ages ranged between 15 and 50, and the children were armed with guns.38 In a unit in the town of Alkhan Kala, many of the fighters were reported to be "mere boys".39

Other Chechen armed units appeared to have been established as security guards, to defend the territory of specific individuals against other Chechen armed groups. In the Vedeno region, for example, a local administrator involved in a blood feud and rivalry with two field commanders described five youths manning a checkpoint as "my partisans".40

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

There was no information on programs for the DDR of child soldiers in the Russian Federation or in Chechnya.

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Reports 2002, 2003 and 2004,

2 Constitution,

3 Russian Federation Legal Acts on Civil Military Relations, Collection of Documents, Moscow, 2003.

4 Interfax-Military News Agency, 19 January 2004; see also "New conscripts promised warmth and safety, 31 March 2004", http://www.gazeta. ru/2004/03/31/oa_116462.shtml; Human Rights Watch (HRW), Conscription through detention in Russia's armed forces, November 2002,

5 Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, St Petersburg, Extraordinary new year events in railway troops, 9 January 2003, posted at Post-Soviet Armies Newsletter, (Contents/Index, Dedovschina-Hazing); see also Vremya novostei, 24 March 2003; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), (Un)Civil Societies, "Russian soldiers' mothers deplore abusive army", 5 February 2004,

6 HRW, To serve without health: Inadequate nutrition and health care in the Russian armed forces, November 2003; RFE/RL, "Russian Soldiers' Mothers deplore abusive army", op. cit.; Interfax, 17 January 2004; ITAR-TASS News Agency, 3 September 2003. (Such abuse, often called "hazing", is an institutionalized system of extreme physical abuse and psychological humiliation inflicted over an extended period on the most recent or junior conscripts by longer-serving conscripts or senior soldiers. While not formally condoned, lack of supervision allows the practice to continue unchecked. The precise form it takes may vary from one army to another, but its essential features are that it is systematic, continual, status-related, and usually carried out by those who have previously been its victims.)

7 RFE/RL, Newsline, 7 April 2003.

8 Vremya MN, 18 February 2000; see also Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, The ABC of Soviet resurrections and the militarizing of society under Putin, 28 January 2003, Post-Soviet Armies Newsletter, posted at Johnson's Russia List, No. 7037,

9 Igor Frolov, "Orphans find a new family with Russian Military", The Russia Journal, 30 August 1999, posted at Post-Soviet Armies Newsletter (New roles for the military; Social agent). For an account of child welfare issues, see State Committee of the Russian Federation on Statistics, Child and family welfare in Russia, 2001, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, (Research, Economic and social policy, Monitoring change, Country analytical reports).

10 Igor Frolov, op. cit.

11 As estimated by Child Soldiers Coalition.

12 Trud, 10 December 1997.

13 Eve Conant, "They're in the army now: The Russian military is trying out an unusual method of caring for destitute boys. It adopts them", Newsweek web exclusive, 25 February 2003, posted at Johnson's Russia List, No. 7078.

14 TV RTR, "Russia's Suvorov Military Academies Celebrate 60th Anniversary of Founding", 21 August 2003, from BBC Monitoring Service, posted at Post-Soviet Armies Newsletter (Military education).

15 Amelia Gentleman, "Raising taxes, Moscow style", The Observer (London), 20 May 2001.

16 Russian Federation Legal Acts, op. cit.

17 Elisabeth Sieca-Kozlowski, op. cit.

18 Pravda, "Militarization of Russia is under way", 13 October 2003.

19 AFP, 11 November 2003; Interfax, 24 March 2003.

20 Sarah Rainsford, "Russia toys with schoolboy soldiers", BBC News, 13 February 2004,

21 Amnesty International Report 2004.

22 Amnesty International (AI), Chechnya: Rape and torture of children in Chernokozovo "filtration camp", 23 March 2000,; Prima News Agency, "Teenagers kidnapped in Chechnya", 19 February 2002,; Human Rights Center "Memorial", "Cleansing Operation" in the Village of Alleroy, 16th-27th of August 2001, shtml. AI has described "filtration camps" as follows: "women and men are subjected to 'filtration' when their identity documents are checked against computer data, which allegedly includes information on suspected members of armed Chechen groups and their relatives. They are usually kept for some time at a detention place at the checkpoint and then taken to 'filtration camps'. Hundreds of men and teenage boys have also been reportedly detained in the towns and villages of Naursky District, Grozny and other regions under the control of the Russian forces and taken to 'filtration camps'." (AI, Chechnya: Russian government should open doors of filtration camps to international scrutiny, 17 February 2000).

23 Anna Politkovskaya, Novaya Gazeta, 4 March 2002,

24 Anna Politkovskaya, "Chechen official: More than ninety Chechen children have disappeared", Novaya Gazeta, 11 April 2002, cited in Jamestown Foundation, Monitor, 12 April 2002, (Publications).

25 Anna Politkovskaya, A Dirty War, A Russian Reporter in Chechnya, Harvill Press, London, 2001, p. 182.

26 Lawrence Uzzell, "Report highlights plight of Chechen teenage fighters", Jamestown Foundation, Chechnya Weekly, 17 March 2004, citing Moskovsky Komsomolets, 12 March 2004.

27 Anna Politkovskaya, Russian reporter in Chechnya: One experience, 19 November 2001, Caspian Studies Program, Harvard University, (Publications).

28 Communication from Ilyas Akhmadov, underground "foreign minister" of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, 22 February 2004.

29 Communication from Chechenskoe Obshchestvo newspaper, 15 March 2004.

30 Jamestown Foundation, "Chechen fighters getting younger", Chechnya Weekly, 8 July 2002, citing Moskovskie Novosti, 2 July 2002.

31 Jamestown Foundation, "Chechen fighters getting younger", Chechnya Weekly, 8 July 2002, citing Nezavisimaya Gazeta, 1 July 2002.

32 Khassan Baiev, The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire, Simon & Schuster, 2003, p. 163.

33 Communication from Chechenskoe Obshchestvo, op. cit.; Moskovsky Komsomolets (In Russian), 23 October 2003.

34, 20 May 2003,

35 Novaya gazeta (in Russian), 15 September 2003,

36 C.W. Blandy, Dagestan: The Storm Part 3 – The Expulsion of Chechen Bandit Formations from Novolakskiy Rayon, Conflict Studies Research Centre, (Caucasus series).

37 See also Olga Oliker, Russia's Chechen Wars 1994-2000, Lessons from Urban Combat, Santa Monica: Rand, 2001, pp. 65-73.

38 Thomas Goltz, Chechnya Diary, A War Correspondent's Story of Surviving the War in Chechnya, New York: St Martin's Press, 2003, p. 97.

39 Khassan Baiev, op. cit., p. 156.

40 Andrew Meier, Black Earth: Russia After The Fall, London: HarperCollins, 2004, pp. 138-44.

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