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

  • Population:
    – total: 10,152,000
    – under-18s: 2,114,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 39,250
    – reserves: 152,050
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 16
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated in government armed forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: signed on 6 September 2000; supports "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC;GC/API+II;ICC; ILO 138
  • There are indications of under-18s in government armed forces as certain ranks may enlist voluntarily from the age of 16. Recent developments suggest that the Belgian government will adopt 18 as the minimum age for recruitment and deployment. Concerns remain about the status of under 18 year olds in military schools.


National Recruitment Legislation

The Belgian armed forces have been a professional volunteer army since March 1995. Legislation passed in December 1992 suspended (not abolished) obligatory military service during peacetime.

However, although not currently applied, earlier Acts on the Militia of April 1962 have not been repealed and are therefore legally still in force.200 According to article 4 of these Acts, during peacetime registration was required during the year candidates turn 16, for call-up was required during the year candidates turn 19. Early call-up was also possible, in which cases recruits considered fit to serve were allowed to do so in the year they reached the age of 18. In wartime, Article 2(4) of the Acts states that "militiamen shall be part of the recruitment reserve from 1 January of the year in which they reach the age of 17, until the time when they are taken into the army or their military obligations come to an end. This reserve can only be called up in the event of war or a threat to the territory."201 In light of the fact that conscription legislation has only been suspended, children of 16 years of age could be recruited during wartime.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in communication with the Coalition in 1999, stated that voluntary recruitment was possible from the age of 16.202 Information provided by Belgium to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1994 stated that those who were not candidates for non-commissioned officer rank were required to fulfil compulsory education, which would not typically occur until the end of the school year in which they turn 18.203 A candidate wishing to be a regular soldier must show completion, or near completion, of the first three years of secondary education or equivalent.204 Officers were said to be accepted for training from the age of 17 and non-commissioned officers below the age of 16: "it is possible for candidates to follow a course of training before the age of 16. In such cases, they will be civilian pupils up to the age of 16, after which they will receive military training combined with the syllabus for full secondary education."205

Other sources including the UN Secretary-General in 1997 have suggested the minimum voluntary recruitment age is 18.206 Furthermore, in relation to the Optional Protocol, the Belgian government has clearly indicated its support for a minimum age of 18.207 Article 141 of a draft law recently submitted to Parliament by the Defence Minister reinforces the principle of non-engagement of those under 18 in conflict situations.208

Military Training and Military Schools

In current practice under-18s are reportedly not sent into combat.209 Both boys and girls can enter the Royal Military Academy (Ecole Royale Militaire) at the age of 17.210 One report from March 1999 stated that there were 2,500 pupils in the army but no further details were given about ages.211 At present under-18s attending military schools have military status.212

Many initiatives have been developed to interest youth in the army. Young people can attend a range of different training courses (for children between 14-18 years) with certificates (for children and youth between 12-23 years) which allow them to learn military practices. Existing programmes have been extended (para and commando certificates, air force cadets, marine cadets etc) and new programmes created, such as army-school week (from 22 to 26 June) as well as around 1,000 vacation training courses.213


International Standards

Belgium signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 6 September 2000 and is expected to ratify before the UN Special Session on Children in September 2001. The government has confirmed its intentions to the Belgian Coalition and Parliament to make a binding declaration supporting the "straight-18" position. The Belgian government made a pledge at the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999 to prohibit the participation of those under 18 years in every form of armed action during times of armed conflict.

Government Initiatives

The Belgian Minister for Development Cooperation has identified the issue of child soldiers as one of its policy priorities from 2001. The Minister of Foreign Affairs has nominated a Special Representative for the Great Lakes Area, small arms and child soldiers.

200 Commission Interdépartementale de Droit Humanitaire, Protection des enfants – non participation aux hostilités, Doc. 38, 1/96.

201 Initial Report of Belgium submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/11/Addendum 4, 6 September 1994, para. 57-58; also Commission Interdépartementale de Droit Humanitaire, Protection des enfants – non participation aux hostilités, Doc. 38, 1/96.

202 Telephone conversation between Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the CSC, 8/9/99.

203 Commission Interdépartementale de Droit Humanitaire, op. cit.

204 Report of Belgium op. cit., para. 56.

205 Report of Belgium op. cit. para. 56.; see also official website>; Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 8/9/99 op. cit.

206 Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1997/99 op. cit.; Brett and McCallin op. cit.

207 Report of the Working Group on a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on involvement of children in armed conflicts, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/102, 23 /3/98, para. 63.

208 Information provided by Belgian National Coalition in 3/01.

209 Information provided by Belgian National Coalition in 3/01.

210 See

211 "Les jeunes Flamands manquent à l'appel. L'armée belge transmuée recrute", Le Soir, 9/3/99.

212 Belgian National Coalition, 3/01 op. cit.

213 E. L., "Quand l'armée forme la jeunesse, selon Jean-Pol Poncelet", Le Soir, 9/5/98.


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