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

  • Population:
    – total: 30,774,000
    – under-18s: 13,530,000
  • Government armed forces
    – active: 124,000
    – reserves: 150,000
    – paramilitary: 181,20032
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 19
  • Voluntary recruitment age: unknown
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in paramilitary and armed opposition groups
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ICC; ILO 138 + 182; ICC
  • There are no indications of under-18s in the government armed forces, but there have been reports of child participation in paramilitary 'Legitimate Defence' groups. Armed opposition groups are widely reported to have children in their ranks.


Following rioting in October 1988, Algeria's one-party State initiated a democratisation programme and adopted a new constitution in 1989. The Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut or FIS) won ensuing elections in 1990 and 1991 but was banned by the government. Algeria was subsequently engulfed in civil conflict.33

Following a secret agreement negotiated with the army in 1997, the AIS (the Islamic Salvation Army, the armed wing of one branch of the FIS) declared a unilateral cease-fire in October 1997. The LIDD (Ligue Islamique pour le Dawa et le Djihad – Islamic League for Preaching and Combat) joined the cease-fire shortly after. A law on Civil Harmony (Concorde Civile – Law No 99-08) was passed in July 1999 exempting from prosecution or limiting penalties under certain conditions for members of armed groups who surrendered within six months. In addition, members of the AIS and LIDD armed groups were granted a Presidential amnesty exempting them from prosecution without exclusion in January 2000 (Presidential Decree No 2000-03). Other armed opposition groups have continued fighting, however.34


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

The minimum age for compulsory recruitment is 19 according to Article 1 of Edict 74-103 of 15 November 1974.35 Military service is compulsory for all men; women may join the air force on a voluntary basis. Military service currently lasts 18 months, divided into six months of military training and 12 months of active service.36 After completing service soldiers must remain available to the Ministry of Defence for five years and may be recalled at any time. Thereafter, they form part of the reserve forces for a further 20 years.37

Conscripts can postpone service until they are 27 years old in order to complete studies.38 Exemptions are possible in peacetime under certain circumstances – for medical or psychological reasons, when a brother is already serving, and for sole family breadwinners as well as the sons of heroes and martyrs from the war of independence.39

At the end of 1999, the Ministry of Defence announced that those over 27 years of age who had not performed military service, including those who had deferred or evaded the draft, would be eligible for exemption. Applications were to be considered on a case-by-case basis, although it was not clear exactly which categories of applicants would benefit from the scheme.40

Child Recruitment by Government-allied Paramilitary Groups

Executive Decree 97-04 of January 1997 officially established (two years after their actual creation) 'Legitimate Defence Groups' (Groupes de défense légitime)41 and determined the conditions under which they are operate. Constitution of these groups is subject to authorisation of the public authorities and a joint order of the ministries of Defence and Interior. Leaders of these groups are sometimes, but not always, law-enforcement officers. According to the law, members do not receive any remuneration, but in practice, leaders and members of some Legitimate Defence Groups have received salaries (and have publicly complained when payments have not been made).42 The Legitimate Defence Groups are supplied with arms by the government (Article 8, decree 97-04) and are required to wear distinctive uniforms. Many reports suggest that the formation of these groups has led to a 'privatisation' of the war and that the government is unable to control their actions.43 It has been reported that in many parts of the country the Legitimate Defence Groups have recruited young people into their ranks.44 According to government officials, enlistment is on a voluntary basis; while no age criteria are explicitly mentioned in the Decree, the same recruitment rules are applied as for other security forces; further, the minimum age for carrying firearms in Algeria is 19 years.45

In addition, 'communal guards' were created under Executive Decrees 96-265 and 96-266 of August 1996 to defend public order. According to Chapter 1, Section1, Article 21 of Decree 96-266: "Communal guards are recruited amongst candidates of at least 19 years of age who have gained the best marks in tests."46


There are three main opposition groups in Algeria: the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS), the armed wing of the FIS which ceased fighting in October 1997 and formally dissolved in January 2000; the Armed Islamic Group (GIA or Groupes Islamiques Armés) a collection of armed groups whose leadership and composition remain unclear; and the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC).

Child Recruitment and Deployment

It has been reported that children and youth have actively participated in the different armed opposition groups.47 The Psychological Institute in Algiers has claimed that young people fighting for the Islamist groups are not driven by religious motives but rather by frustration at broader economic and social problems.48

  • The Islamic Salvation Army (AIS): 4,00049

The Court of Algiers ordered the dissolution of the FIS in March 1992. Armed Islamist groups began to form in the following months, notably the MIA (Mouvement Islamique Armé), whose members later joined the AIS or GIAs. The AIS was created in 1994 to serve as the armed wing of the Front Islamique du Salut50 and operated in the east and west of Algeria, focusing its attacks mainly against military and security force personnel.51

A journalist who secretly visited an AIS camp in 1997 reported the presence of boys, some as young as 15, among the movement's soldiers. One of the boys claimed to have killed seven men during the election week: "Two boys described themselves as assassins. Armed with sawn-off shotguns, they stalk security men in public places, firing at point-blank range and disappearing into the crowd."52

  • The Armed Islamic Group (Groupe Islamique Armés – GIA): 1,50053

The GIA began its violent campaign in 1993. It is alleged to have been responsible for civilian massacres, hijacking an Air France flight in 1994 and bombings in France. Algerian expatriates, many of whom reside in Europe, provide some financial support to the group.

A witness living in a small district of Mitidja, a GIA-controlled area, said: "It was incredible – kids with a Kalashnikov on their shoulder in every street. They check the papers of people going by and watch who's coming in and who's leaving the town. You see them, backs to the wall, with a pistol in their hands, chatting. They're maybe not even 18 years old. People don't go out to walk about any more."54

Another source has claimed that the GIA uses young boys, mainly in their early teens, to plant bombs and carry out surprise attacks.55 A young woman from one of the Algerian villages where massacres had taken place said that all of the killers were boys under 17. Some boys who seemed to be around the age of 12 decapitated a 15-year-old girl and then played 'catch' with her head.56

  • The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat: less than 50057

Unlike other armed groups in western Algeria, the Salafists are said to confine their attacks to military targets. Nothing is known about child involvement in the activities of this group.

32 IISS estimates strength of Legitimate Defence Groups at 100,000; according to Bruno Etienne (Le Figaro) their size is as high as 180,000, 31/8/97.

33 Balencie and de la Grange, op. cit.

34 Information provided by Amnesty International; see also "Sour Cherry", The Economist, 15/2/01.

35 Ordonnance 74-103 of 15/12/74, Journal Officiel de la Republique Algerienne; Brett, Rachel and McCallin, Margaret, Children: The Invisible Soldiers, RB, Stockholm 1998, Appendix A. Democratique et Populaire, 10/12/74.

36 Article 1 of Law No. 89-19 of 12/12/89.

37 Horeman B. and Stolwijk, M. Refusing to Bear Arms: A World Survey of Conscription and Conscientious Objection to Military Service, War Resisters International, London, 1998; AI(Switzerland), Die Militargesetzgebung, 8/98.

38 Article 98 of the National Service Act.

39 Articles 90 to 104 of the National Service Act.

40 Information provided to CSC by Amnesty International.

41 Decree 97-04 "fixant les conditions d'exercice de l'action de legitime defense dans un cadre organise.

42 Information provided to CSC by Amnesty International.

43 Martinez, L., La guerre civile en Algerie, L'Harmattan, Paris, 1998.

44 Ibid.

45 Communication to CSC from Embassy of Algeria, London, 9/05/01.

46 Ibid.

47 Peter Strandberg, freelance journalist, cited by RB,

48 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

49 see FIS Section, Federation of American Scientists,

50 FIS website:

51 Federation of American Scientists – FIS op. cit.

52 Dennis M., Newsweek, 30/6/97.

53 IISS.

54 Martinez op. cit.

55 Information received from reliable source that requests confidentiality.

56 "Les orphelins d'Algerie", Temps present, Swiss Television, 29/1/98, unofficial translation.

57 Ibid.


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