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

  • Population:
    – total: 10,637,000
    – under-18s: 2,659,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: Some 97,700
    – reserves: Some 400,000
    – paramilitary: 80,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: registration at 17; service at 18
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 17
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government armed forces and armed opposition groups
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • There was considerable evidence of the use of child soldiers by armed opposition groups, especially the KLA, UCPMB and Free Montenegro group, during the past conflict. In renewed violence in Macedonia, some under 18-year-old members of ethnic Albanian separatist groups were already apprehended. Government-allied paramilitaries have also recruited and deployed children under 18 in past conflict situations. Information on minimum recruitment age indicates that there may currently be under-18s in the government armed forces.


Fighting in Kosovo began in February 1998 following a number of skirmishes between the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Yugoslav armed forces. The crisis came to an end in June 1999 following NATO airstrikes; peacekeeping forces entered the area and Serb military and militia withdrew.2138 The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has all executive and legislative authority in Kosovo supported by the military contingent KFOR. Renewed threats emerged in spring 2000 from the UCPMB, an ethnic Albanian armed group operating east of Kosovo on the Serbian side of the border. Fighting has also flared between ethnic Albanian separatists and government armed forces in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia – FYROM (see FYROM entry also). There are reported links between the ethnic Albanian armed groups in FYROM and the former, supposedly disbanded, Kosovo Liberation Army. The uneasy relationship between Serbia and Montenegro continued in 1999 as Montenegro took a series of steps to split from Serbia raising fears of a possible military response.2139 In its northern territory too, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia faces claims for autonomy for Vojvodina by a Hungarian National Council established in August 1999.2140


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

Article 63 of the 1992 Constitution upholds that "[D]efence of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia shall be the right and the duty of every citizen" and Article 137 specifies that "[C]ompulsory military service shall be universal and performed in the manner established by federal statute".2141 Military service is regulated by the provisions of Articles 279 to 336 of the Law on the Yugoslav Army. According to Article 288(2) of this law, the draft obligation starts with the registration at the beginning of the calendar year in which a Yugoslav citizen reaches 17 years, but call-up itself, as one element of that obligation, pursuant to Article 291(1) of the same law, occurs in the calendar year in which the draftee turns 18.

Voluntary recruitment is possible from the beginning of the calendar year in which a potential conscript turns 17 years of age. This minimum age limit is also valid in wartime at the order of the President of the Republic. However, Articles 301 and 302 of the law state that a recruit is sent to perform his military service when he turns 21 (or, if he himself so demands, at the earliest in the year he turns 18).2142 Military service lasts for 12 months.2143 Women cannot perform any kind of military service.

There have been reports of draft evasion and desertion throughout the various crises in Bosnia, Croatia and most recently Kosovo.2144 Press-gang-style round-ups by police of military-age males for conscription in Montenegro were also reported.2145 In March 1999, Human Rights Watch denounced forced recruitment into the Yugoslav army and was concerned by the proposal to reinstate the death penalty "in an effort to threaten and intimidate Serbs opposed to the conflict in Kosovo or unwilling to perform military service".2146 Many cases of desertion were also reported, with rebellions by soldiers and their parents.2147

Military Training and Military Schools

It is not known whether Yugoslav armed forces included minors during the Kosovo conflict. However, the freedom of movement of children was restricted with an eye to future recruitment. All children of 14 years of age and over had to have an identity card and no boys were allowed to leave the country.2148 Another source claimed that the prohibition on leaving the country applied to boys from 15 years of age and up.2149 As far as military schools are concerned, the minimum age of entry is 16 years. But students are not members of the armed forces. In case of a state of war, students who are below the age of 18 are reportedly dismissed.2150

Child Recruitment by Paramilitary Groups

It has been reported that the late paramilitary leader Zejko Raznjatovic, better known as Arkan, restarted recruitment to help Serb armed forces during the Kosovo conflict in March 1999.2151 Serb paramilitaries had a reputation for using children as young as 10 during the wars in Bosnia and Croatia in 1992-95.2152 There is evidence that Serb paramilitaries used minors in the recent Kosovo crisis. One report suggests 100 ethnic Serb children were recruited from FYROM.2153


Child Recruitment and Deployment


The KLA (otherwise known as the Ushtria Clirimtare e Kosoves – UČK) was officially dissolved in spring 20002154 in accordance with agreements made following Serbian withdrawal from Kosovo in 1999. Demilitarised KLA soldiers now form part of a civilian protection service called TMK. Juveniles cannot be recruited into the TMK.2155 Although, supposedly disbanded, the KLA is said to have formed offshoots in neighbouring Macedonia and Southern Serbia which are responsible for the recent upturn in fighting in those areas.

At the height of the conflict in April 1999, the self-styled 'Government of Kosovo' ordered a general mobilisation for all Kosovar men within and outside Kosovo between 18 and 50 years of age. The KLA organised recruitment in many parts of Western Europe.2156 Not all recruitment by the KLA was voluntary and there were some reports of press-ganging, notably among the refugee population.2157

The participation of children in the KLA was confirmed in October 2000 when details of the registration of 16,024 KLA soldiers by the International Organisation for Migration in Kosovo became known. Ten per cent of this number were children. The majority of them were 16 and 17 years old. Around 2 % were below the age of 16. These were mainly girls recruited to cook for the soldiers rather than to actually fight.2158

KLA attempts to recruit refugees were said to specifically target high school students.2159 In response to this threat, UNICEF in close collaboration with the Albanian government, UNHCR, WHO, and other partners, developed the Child-Friendly Spaces Initiative within refugee camps. One of the specific aims of this was to lower the risk of sexual exploitation/trafficking, juvenile delinquency and military recruitment.

Some 1,000 children from Macedonia were said to have joined the KLA.2160 (see also FYROM country entry). This claim was supported by the FYROM Minister of Interior, Mr Pavle Trajanov, who declared in April 1999 that the KLA wanted to destabilise the FYROM by recruiting people on its territory. He also said that teenagers were among those recruited and he quoted about 20 villages in the country where the KLA operated freely.2161 Some recruits from other countries also were under 18, for instance, a 17-year-old female high school student from the Bronx in New York.2162

Journalistic sources have provided vivid anecdotal information on children as young as 14, both boys and girls, fighting in the ranks of the KLA.2163 For instance, a journalist from the British newspaper, The Independent, met Shote (name from Shote Galica, a famous Kosovar partisan killed in the Second World War), a 14-year-old girl who said: "I'm not afraid. We are prepared to fight. We don't do the cooking here, we fight with our friends". She was trained in single sex groups, but she worked in mixed units. She claimed to have taken part in all big battles around the Drenica region and to have already killed which is not difficult "when we know who we are killing". She pretended that her mother was happy that she was a soldier though she was frightened when her daughter went out on the frontline. Other girls were part of the KLA like the 15-year-old daughter of a soldier who said: "I'm a soldier, my son is a soldier, my daughter is a soldier, and all my 11 children are going to be soldiers. We will continue this until we win our freedom".2164


Free Montenegro are opposition forces who are aiming for an independent Montenegro. They are said to number 15,000 men. They practice child recruitment as they are made up of people "between 15 and 55 who are ready to die for Montenegro" according to Bozidar Bogdanovic.2165


The UCPMB is an Albanian armed group operating in southern Serbia whose operations are reportedly controlled by the Political Council for Presovo. They are calling for the incorporation of the cities of Preshava, Medvegia and Bujanovci into Kosovo. Estimates of numbers vary between 200 and 15,000.

The Guardian newspaper reported in January 2001 that some sixty suspected members of the UCPMB guerrilla had been arrested by peacekeepers. UCPMB recruits include children in their mid teens to men in their forties.2166 Further confirmation of the participation of child soldiers came when KFOR detained 16 juveniles (aged 15-17) in the first two months of 2001 for alleged involvement in the conflict (although the degree of "involvement" is not clear). The international media claim that there is forced recruitment of juveniles into this group but this is not verified and numbers are small.2167 A 15-year-old Albanian male was reported shot dead on 23 March 2001 in the Ground Safety Zone near Gnjilane. Although no confirmations have been received, the circumstances suggest he may have been a child soldier.2168


Each KFOR contingent is governed by its own member state's compliance (or non-compliance) with international standards regarding the minimum age for child soldiers. According to UNICEF, there is no indication of under 18-year-olds serving in KFOR at present although the British contingent at least has in the past contained 17-year-olds.


The militarisation of youth by years of conflict in the region is easily visible. At the end of the recent Kosovo crisis, British soldiers from the KFOR peacekeeping force found that children had been taught about warfare at the Lipljan Agricultural School, a Serb school south of Pristina: "[D]isplay cabinets contained slides showing how to booby-trap books, cigarette packets and hay bales, and posters and teenagers' exercise books contain detailed instructions on nuclear, chemical and biological warfare. Equipment abandoned after a nearby cruise missile strike included a Geiger counter and chemicals used to make or test explosives". Books and school records found at the school appeared to belong to children between 15 and 18 years of age. Drawings were also found, including diagrams on how to find and attack a tank's weak spots and how to set a mine beneath the ground or in long grass.2169 According to UNICEF, military schools and defence classes in universities and secondary schools have been abolished by the UNMIK Department of Education and Science. Shortly after the crisis of 1999, UNICEF came across materials about "war science" in schools but it is believed that these practices are no longer continuing.

One legacy of recent conflicts is the disturbing level of juvenile violence seen in the province. A series of OSCE human rights reports in late 1999 reported the involvement of children in physical attacks on minorities and the burning and looting of their properties. The murder of an elderly Kosovo Serb man by a 15-year-old Kosovo Albanian girl in Slovinje on 24 September 1999 and the attack of a Kosovo Serb man by a group of 10 to 12-year-old boys in a busy street in Pristina on 25 October 1999 are but two examples.2170

Reports have also implicated the Albanian mafia in using ethnic Albanian children in attacks against Kosovo Serbs. Reportedly, two 15-year-old Albanian girls have been detained "in connection with a series of grenade attacks by a gang terrorising the town's remaining Serbs". Of the 16 people detained by the British military police in connection with more than 20 attacks on Serbs in three weeks, 12 were said to be aged 19 or under. According to this source, "persuaded by figures in the ethnic Albanian mafia that they had been recruited to create an ethnically pure Kosovo, the girls agreed to act as couriers to transport grenades from the Albanian border to the little town just south of the provincial capital, Pristina. They would carry them in handbags – aware that the British soldiers would not search them – or give them to even younger children to transport." It has been pointed out that the children believed that they were working for the KLA, "(but) the truth is they were being manipulated by the mafia."2171 In response to these problems of juvenile crime, international organisations working in Kosovo have set up a juvenile justice task force.

2138 www.rb.se

2139 AP wire, 9/12/99. MNNews 23/11/99

2140 "Die Ungarn der Vojvodina fordern Autonomie: umstrittene Grundung eines Nationalrats der Magyaren", Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 24/8/99.

2141 Blaustein and Flanz op. cit.

2142 Initial report of Yugoslavia to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/8/Add.16, 17/11/94, para. 371.

2143 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

2144 Jahn, G. "Yugoslav men confront draft issue", AP, 9/4/99 ; "Das UNO-Kriegsverbrechertribunal stockt Expertenteams im Kosovo auf", Der Standard, 8/7/99. Also, during the NATO air campaign in 24/3/99, it was reported that many young men hid themselves in order to avoid draft by the military police. Jamie Shea, NATO spokesman, said that "a large number of young men have taken refuge in Belgrade – have gone underground [...] in the capital – because they know that there they have got a good chance of escaping the draft if they lie low". Shea, J., NATO Press Conference, Brussels, 20/5/99.

2145 Shea, J., NATO morning briefing, Brussels, 20/5/99.

2146 HRW, Kosovo Human Rights Flash #6, New York, 29/3/99.

2147 Schmitt, E., "Hundreds of Yugoslav troops said to desert", The New York Times, 20/5/99; Gall C., "Women protest draftees' Kosovo duty", The New York Times, 20/5/99; Despic-Popovic, H., "Parents et soldats se revoltent dans deux villes serbes: entre 1000 et 7000 recrues auraient deserte", Liberation, 21/5/99.

2148 Statement of Ms. Sonja Biserko, Helsinki Committee to the United States Institute for Peace Conference on Bosnia in the Balkans, 23/4/99.

2149 Glauber, U. "Angste in benachbarten Ungarn, Widerstand in Tschechien", Basler Zeitung, 31/3/99.

2150 Information supplied by UNICEF.

2151 "On pleure, on ne sait pas quoi faire", Le Temps, 27/3/99.

2152 Country case study conducted for the UN Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, 1995.

2153 Information supplied by Natasa Dokovska, Journalists for the Rights of Women, Children and the Environment, FYROM.

2154 www.rb.se

2155 UNICEF communication to the Coalition dated 9/3/01.

2156 Stephen, C. "While Serb forces face recruitment problems, volunteers are reported to be streaming into the KLA's ranks", Irish Times, 13/4/99; Traynor, I., op. cit.; "Die Rekrutierung in Deutschland lauft gut", Suddeutsche Zeitung, 12/4/99.; Semo, M., op. cit.; "Kosovo-Armee rekrutiert auch in Osterreich Soldaten", Kurier, 24/4/99; Bender, A. "L'UCK recrute, Berne ferme les yeux", Le Matin, 15/4/99; Simon, J. "Shaban aus Saarbrucken", Der Tagesspiegel, 14/4/99.

2157 Koleka, B., "KLA needs more than volunteers to hit at Serbs", Reuters, 8/4/99; Rupert, J., "Kosovo rebel army not all-volunteer", The Washington Post, 26/4/99.

2158 www.rb.se quoting Save the Children Kosovo Programme plan 2000-2002

2159 "Border guards reportedly intercept UCK groups at border", The Herald, 14/4/99.

2160 Natasha Dokovska op. cit.

2161 Paris, G., "Les autoritees macedoniennes redoutent les agissements de l'UCK sur leur sol", Le Monde, 22/4/99.

2162 Signing up yonkers to fight in the Balkans, 12/4/99, www.nytimes.com. Barbara Stewart. Also "Albanian-Americans leave us to fight for Kosovo", AFP International, 16/4/99.

2163 In June 1999, British soldiers of the KFOR discovered a Serb torture room in Pristina where they found files and photographs of prisoners, among them women and teenagers in KLA uniforms. Williams, B. "Une salle de torture serbe a Pristina", JCP, 17 June 1999.

2164 Daly, E., "Kosovo girls want to kill", The Independent, 25/10/98.

2165 BBC news; news.bbc.co.uk; 24/3/00

2166 Nicholas Wood, 26/1/01, "Albanian gunmen training for war.

2167 UNICEF, 9/3/01 op. cit.

2168 Information provided by confidential source that requests confidentiality, 3/01

2169 "Serb pupils learnt tactics of terror", The Times, 29/6/99.

2170 OSCE Human Rights Rreport December 1999.

2171 Beaumont, P., "Albanian mafia wages war on Kosovo's Serbs. Child bombers recruited for series of grenade attacks that puts K-For in the spotlight", Guardian Weekly, 19-25/8/99.


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