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

  • Population:
    – total: 147,196,000
    – under-18s: 34,811,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 1,004,100
    – reserves: 20,000,000
    – paramilitary: 423,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: none indicated in government armed forces; indicated in armed opposition groups
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • There are no indications of under-18s in government armed forces as the minimum age for compulsory and voluntary recruitment is 18.1587 Armed opposition groups, especially in Chechnya, reportedly use child soldiers.


In recent years, Russian forces have fought Islamist and separatist armed groups in Chechnya, Daghestan and other parts of the Caucasus region. The UN Commission on Human Rights, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about grave human rights abuses by both government and opposition forces.


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 59 of the 1993 Constitution states that "1. Defence of the homeland shall be the duty and obligation of the citizen of the Russian Federation. 2. The citizen of the Russian Federation shall do military service in conformity with the federal law."1588

The current legal basis for military service is the 1995 Law on Compulsory Military Service (signed in by President Yeltsin on 29 April 1995). Military service can be performed in the armed forces, the Russian border troops abroad and the internal security troops run by the Ministry of Interior. Conscripts can be assigned to prison guard duties, road and bridge construction, or civilian police tasks. A law aiming to revise the tasks of conscripts and refocus them on military activities was vetoed by President Yeltsin.1589

Only certain categories of women (such as those with medical qualifications) are, in theory, liable for military service. However it seems that this rule has never been applied in practice. Military service lasts two years or only one year in the case of university and college graduates.1590 Concessions are made for recruits who have taken part in hostilities or who had spent at least one month in a conflict zone after 18 months of military service.1591 Moves to end conscription and create a fully professional army have stalled in the face of political opposition and budget constraints.

Conditions of service in the Russian armed forces are notoriously harsh and often brutal.1592 Bullying of new recruits is rampant,1593 leading to suicides, widespread drug abuse and criminality. Many prefer to evade the draft, use or 'buy' exemption to military service, or simply desert after having enlisted. Furthermore, conscripts are afraid to be sent to conflict zones, such as Chechnya, or as border guards in Tajikistan.1594

As a result of the many problems, the majority of conscripts in the Russian armed forces are from rural areas and many are not highly educated and come from lower socio-economic classes.1595 In St Petersburg, for example, official records found that 52 per cent of recruits had no secondary education.1596

The Russian Soldier's Mothers Committee denounced untrained conscripts being sent to fight in Chechnya and Daghestan. On 16 August 1999, the Duma passed a non-binding resolution urging the government to send only volunteers and experienced draftees.1597 On 16 September 1999, a presidential decree was adopted stating that soldiers do not have to take part in military action during peacetime unless they have more than a year's experience and volunteer for combat.1598

Military Training and Military Schools

There are seven special military schools (the so-called 'Suvorovskya') located in Ekaterinberg, Kazan, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ever, Ulyanovsk and Ussurisk, where about 4,900 pupils are currently studying. Children are accepted from the age of 14 and orphans can enter without the need to pass an examination. There is also a specialised navy school in St. Petersburg.1599 There are five special cadet corps in the Russian Federation where children of 11-12 years of age study. Each cadet corps has 30 to 40 pupils and the total number of cadets is not more than 200 in the whole country.1600 It has been claimed that an elite military academy in Novocherkassk admits students at age 11. The cadets are taught military history and how to handle firearms and grenades.1601

Government funded camps have been created to teach children ages 9 to 17 skills in self-sufficiency, including how to use a grenade launcher or fire Kalashnikovs. In January 2001, 130 children were reported to have attended one such camp at Zhukovsk. It was also reported that government ministers had visited the camp and praised its work, which is partly funded and equipped by the army.1602

A report in Life Magazine claimed that orphans or street children have been recruited by the armed forces. "Russian Army officers all over the nation have set up units of "youngsters", children between the ages of 11 and 18 who might otherwise live on the streets. No one is sure how many kids are in these units because the programme is not official and gets no financial support". Allegedly, the first unit of youngsters was created in 1997 at the headquarters of the elite Kantemirovskaya Tank Division. Vanya, 12 years old, is one of 16 children who are in the Division's 202nd Air Defence Battalion. Boys are required to attend school, take training classes, care for the livestock of the base, and participate in drills and shooting exercises.

In February 2000, President Putin issued a decree which provides "approval of the statute on enrolment of under-age citizens of the Russian Federation into military regiments as wards and of their supply with required provisions."1603


Child Recruitment and Deployment

Armed groups in Chechnya are reported to use child soldiers extensively, some as young as 12,1604 although there are no estimates of the number of children involved. In one report, 64 fighters aged 16-18 years surrendered to Russian forces on 5 March 2000.1605

It is also reported that Islamist separatists in Daghestan have offered money to poor youths to join their ranks.1606 There have also been unconfirmed reports of one such armed group, supporters of Sharia, planning to train teenagers to become suicide bombers.1607


In its concluding observations on Russia's periodic report, the Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern at reports of alleged summary executions, involuntary disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment of children in areas of armed conflict.1608 In its periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Russian authorities acknowledged that in the course of the earlier conflict in the Chechen Republic there had been instances of recruitment of minors to form part of illegal armed groupings, but claimed that they did not have information on the numbers involved.1609

1587 See Second periodic report of the Russian Federation to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/65/Add.5, 20 November 1998, para. 361.

1588 Blaustein, A.P. & Flanz, G.H., Constitutions of the countries of the world, Oceana Publications, New York.

1589 Horeman B & Stolwijk, M op. cit.

1590 Horeman B. & Stolwijk M. op. cit.

1591 "L'effondrement de l'ordre sovietique: la decomposition de l'armee", Problemes politiques et sociaux, No. 778, 3 January 1997.

1592 see for instance Duggleby, R.W. "The disintegration of the Russian armed forces", the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, june 1998. See also German, T., "Social problems hindering the combat-readiness of the Russian armed forces", Sapienta, No. 1, Spring 1999; "L'effondrement de l'ordre sovietique: la decomposition de l'armee". Problemes politiques et sociaux, No. 778, 3 January 1997.

1593 A 24-hour confidential telephone line was set up by the military prosecutor's office to receive anonymous reports of unlawful actions. "Bullying, albeit less, remains a problem in the Russian army; excerpts from report by Russia TV on 30 June", BBC Monitoring Service 30/06/98.

1594 "Russia: deserters return to army in Rostov region in successful experiment: text of report by Russian public TV on 31st May", BBC Monitoring Service, 1/06/98.

1595 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

1596 "Les jeunes Russes s'efforcent d'echapper a l'horreur du service militaire", AFP, 10/11/98.

1597 "Soldiers Mothers say untrained conscripts fight in Dagestan", The Moscow Times, 20/8/99.

1598 Smolar, P. "Moscou prepare une offensive annoncee comme decisive au Dagestan". Le Figaro, 19/8/99.

1599 Information supplied by UNICEF.

1600 Ibid.

1601 RB database:

1602 The Sunday Review, "Putins Puppets: Russia prepares its children for war", 7/1/01.

1603 Decree of the Government of Russian Federation, 14/2/00, #124, Moscow.


1605 Dagens Nyheter/TT, 7 March 2000, cited by

1606 Smolar, P. "Moscou prepare une offensive annoncee comme decisive au Dagestan", Le Figaro, 19/8/99.

1607 "Islamic group vows teen bombings if Russia bombs Chechnya", ITAR TASS, 15/11/99.

1608 Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/15/Add.110.

1609 Ibid., para. 361.


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