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

  • Population:
    – total: 5,297,000
    – under-18s: 2,670,000
  • Government Armed Forces:
    – active: 29,100
    – paramilitary (Militia self-defence forces): 100,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 15, 17 or18 (unclear)
  • Voluntary recruitment age: not known
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government armed forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces. Some sources claim that the age for compulsory recruitment may be as low as 15. There are internal conflicts with armed opposition groups and given the extent of child participation in neighbouring conflicts, there is a risk of child recruitment by armed groups.


Fighting between armed groups and the Lao armed forces continues to be reported. In May 2000 there was intensive fighting between Hmong tribal insurgents and Laos forces, backed by Vietnamese troops.1079 The past year has seen a security crackdown following a series of politically-motivated bombings.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 36 of the 1991 Constitution states that: "Lao citizens have the obligations to defend the country, to maintain the people's security and to fulfil military obligations as prescribed by law."1080 Conscription is practiced in accordance with the 1994 Law on Military Service. The 1994 Law also covers reserve duties. According to the Lao officials, the Law on Military Service states "the minimum age for enlistment into the armed forces is 18 years old".1081 However, sources have variously claimed the minimum age to be: 17 years1082 ; normally 17 years but 15 years in special circumstances;1083 and most recently, 15 years.1084 The length of military service is 18 months, but service may last longer for certain categories of conscripts. Young men who have completed military service may be employed in the provincial forces or the militia, although this is reportedly fairly rare.1085 There is little information available about voluntary recruitment.

Military service is performed in the regular armed forces known as the People's Liberation Army. There are also several paramilitary forces, notably the provincial forces and the militia.1086 The recruitment system reportedly does not seem to work well, partly due to poor co-ordination between the general staff of the armed forces and regional units. Only a very few of those liable to be conscripted are actually called up for service. Draft evasion is said to be widespread as conditions in the armed forces are known to be poor, pay is low and there are shortages of equipment and uniforms.1087 Women are not subject to conscription but may serve within active forces performing administrative functions, and may serve in police and militia forces.1088 Military academies in Laos accept only male students; minimum entry age is not known.1089

With increasing professionalisation in recent years the size of the armed forces has been significantly reduced, from about 50,000 troops in the early 1980s to 29,000 by 1997.1090 However there are sizable paramilitary militia self-defense forces (100,000 in 2000) in the country.


There are a number of Lao armed opposition groups, which together number some 2,000 men. The largest group is the United Lao National Liberation Front (ULNLF). There is no information available on the participation of children in this conflict, though given the widespread involvement of child soldiers in the nearby conflicts on the Thai/Burma border (see Myanmar entry), there are concerns that children could be recruited by armed groups in Laos.

1079 Far Eastern Economic Review, 5/0000.

1080 Blaustein and Flanz op. cit.

1081 Statement by Lao Government representative to Asia-Pacific conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Kathmandu, May 2000; Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1082 Laos: a country study, Library of Congress, 1995.

1083 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1084 Brett and McCallin op. cit.;; also UN Doc. E/CN.4/1997/99 op. cit.

1085 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1086 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1087 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1088 Library of Congress, 1995, op. cit.

1089 US State Department Human Rights Report 1998.

1090 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.


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