Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:1328
    – total: 16,000,000
    – under-18s: 3,410,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 51,940
    – reserves: 32,200
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 16
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government forces – 800-900 under-18s annually
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 7 September 2000; does not support "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces. Legislative provisions regarding the recruitment age need to be clarified and harmonised with actual practice. It appears that 16 is the minimum age in law but that the armed forces practice a policy of only recruiting 17-year-olds and deploying 18-year-olds.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 97 of the 1983 Constitution, as amended in 1995, states that: "1. All Dutch nationals who are capable of doing so shall have a duty to co-operate in maintaining the independence of the State and defending its territory. 2. This duty may also be imposed on residents of the Netherlands who are not Dutch nationals". Article 98 further provides that: "1. To protect its interests, the State shall maintain armed forces which consist of volunteers and which can also consist of conscripts. 2. The Government shall have supreme authority over the armed forces. 3. Compulsory service in the armed forces and the power to postpone the call-up in active service shall be regulated by Act of Parliament." Finally, Article 99 states that: "The conditions on which exemption is granted from military service because of serious conscientious objections shall be specified by Act of Parliament".1329

The Dutch armed forces have undergone an extensive reorganisation since 1993 and conscription was suspended in August 1996 although it can be reinstated in case of emergency. At present, therefore, the armed forces are an all-volunteer force. The minimum age of 16 for recruitment was maintained, however, following the move to a professional army.1330 Military service is currently regulated by the law of 13 March 1997.1331 It appears that the Netherlands Ministry of Defence adheres to a policy that no person under 17 years of age is recruited into the armed forces and that no person under 18 years of age is deployed abroad for military operations. However, this policy is not set out in national legislation.1332

As conscription has only been suspended and could be restored, all 17-year-old men are registered as a matter of course by the Municipal Registry Office for the draft but are not submitted to medical examination or called up.

The procedure for reinstating conscription is governed by Article 40 of the law on military service and requires a Royal Decree to be approved by both Chambers of Parliament. Reinstatement under this article is only possible for training and education and not for combat activities. If reinstated, the length of military service may vary according to the specific branch of the armed forces, but the maximum length is determined by Article 18 (4) of the "Kaderwet Dienstplicht", that is to say 18 months. In an emergency, pursuant to Article 20 of the "Kaderwet Dienstplicht", a Royal Decree can be issued reinstating conscription for all purposes. The adoption of this decree is to be followed immediately by legislation to be introduced in the Parliament. Should the Parliament reject the law, conscription is immediately discontinued.1333

In 1995 and 1996, voluntary recruitment filled the necessary quota of the 8,000 men and women sought each year, although the proportion of women was lower than expected. There were some doubts about being able to maintain this level of recruitment.1334

The Civil Code of the Netherlands (Burgerlijk Wetboek) states that children between 16 and 18 years of age may seek employment of their own choosing, on condition that they receive permission from parents or guardians and dispensation from a judge.

Child Recruitment

Despite national legislation, it appears that the Dutch government in practice volunteers are recruited at 17 and deployed at 18. In 1998 it was reported that the Netherlands had modified its recruitment policy and its selection of personnel for peace operations abroad, setting 17 as the minimum age for recruitment and 18 as the minimum for participation in hostilities and/or taking part in UN/NATO international peace/humanitarian missions.1335 The Dutch armed forces recruit 800 to 900 under-18s every year.1336 According to internal rules of the armed forces, these recruits cannot be sent abroad to take part in military operations before they reach the age of eighteen.1337

Military Training and Military Schools

There are several military schools in the Netherlands. These schools are formally part of the armed forces and all pupils are therefore members of the armed forces. The minimum age for entry is the same as that for recruitment in the armed forces, i.e. 17 years of age. Several "Regional Training Centres" do have a military component in their teaching programmes. Although sometimes taught by military instructors, the students remain civilian.


International Standards

The Netherlands signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 7 September 2000 but does not support the "straight-18" position. The Netherlands made a declaration upon ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child stating: "With regard to Article 38, of the Convention, the Government of the Kingdom of the Netherlands declares that it is of the opinion that States should not be allowed to involve children directly or indirectly in hostilities and that the minimum age for the recruitment or incorporation of children in the armed forces should be above 15 years. In times of armed conflict, provisions shall prevail that are most conducive to guaranteeing the protection of children under international law, as referred to in article 41 of the Convention".

In November 1999, it was reported that a majority of the Dutch Parliament was in favour of setting 18 as the minimum age for recruitment.1338 MP Ms. Van 't Riet announced her intention in October 2000 to introduce a bill in Parliament accordingly setting a "straight-18 rule" for military recruitment.1339

1328 Information provided by the Netherlands National Coalition in 3/01.

1329 Blaustein and Flanz op. cit.

1330 Initial report of the Netherlands to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN doc. CRC/C/51/Add.1, 24/7/97, para. 317-319.

1331 "Kaderwet Dienstplicht" (General Law Compulsory Military service), Staatsblad 1997, 139.

1332 Loebas Oosterbeek in publications for the Dutch Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, "Memorandum Child Soldiers" (Nota Kindsoldaten) and "Kernvraag", a publication of the joint departments for clerical Services in the Dutch Armed Forces, 2000/2 nr. 124.

1333 Fax of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to CSC, 9/12/99.

1334 Everts, P., "L'innocence perdue", La défense en Europe: les adaptations de l'après-guerre froide, Notes et études documentaires, 12/97.

1335 Letter from the then Dutch Assistant Secretary of Defence Gmelich Meijling to the Upper and Lower Houses, The Hague, 8/12/97.

1336 Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 9/12/99, op. cit.

1337 Gmelich Meijling op. cit.

1338 Motion of MP Zijlstra/Van 't Riet adopted by the Dutch Lower House (26 800X nr. 22 – 14 December 1999) and motion of MP Harrewijn adopted by the Dutch Lower House (26 900 nr. 15 – 14/2/00) that appends a period of two years for practical realization of the "straight-18 rule".

1339 "D66 wil wet tegen werven kindsoldaten", De Telegraaf, 12/12/00.


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