Republic of Indonesia

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 217.1 million (78.1 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 302,000 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 18
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: 17 or, regardless of age, married persons
Optional Protocol: signed 24 September 2001
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182

Under-18s were not formally recruited into government armed forces, but were reportedly used as informants, cooks, messengers and in other non-combatant roles in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) province. Children were reportedly involved in the armed political group Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), the Free Aceh Movement. Government forces targeted suspected child members of GAM and some were reportedly killed. Under18s were also reportedly used by armed militias during intercommunal violence in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and North Maluku provinces between 1998 and 2002.


Indonesia continued to face demands for independence in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam (NAD) and Papua provinces (formerly Aceh and Irian Jaya respectively).1 The government signed a ceasefire agreement with Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM), Free Aceh Movement, on 9 December 2002, but clashes escalated and in May 2003 military emergency status was declared in NAD. The security authorities ruled out any possibility of peace talks, and in November 2003 the military emergency was extended for another six months.2 In May 2003 UNICEF warned of an emerging humanitarian crisis, with thousands of people forced out of their homes, some 500 schools burned, and health and sanitation services disrupted.3 The state of emergency virtually closed the province to outside assistance.

By July 2003, 40,000 people had been displaced, and were constantly on the move because of military operations against GAM bases, although by early 2004 the numbers of displaced people were believed to have decreased. Some communities reportedly returned to find their houses destroyed or possessions stolen and did not receive the full amount of government financial aid they were entitled to.4 Despite some government humanitarian aid, press reports indicated that medical and sanitation provisions were inadequate. Public statements by government officials made it clear that activities by Indonesian or international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) deemed hostile to military objectives would not be tolerated. The government coordinated all humanitarian assistance, and international aid workers had to obtain special travel passes. Very few were issued and none were given to international NGOs.5 Journalists and human rights activists faced harassment, intimidation and arrest.

In the eastern provinces of Maluku, North Maluku and Central Sulawesi, thousands died during intercommunal violence which had flared up in 1998 between Christian and Muslim groups, reflecting also some of the underlying ethnic and socio-economic tensions between different groups. The violence declined in Central Sulawesi after the signing of the Malino I agreement in December 2001 and in Maluku following the Malino II agreement in February 2002, but some 200,000 people were still displaced at the end of 2003.6 In Central Sulawesi violence resumed in 2003, with bombings and targeted killings by unidentified assailants.7


National recruitment legislation

Indonesia's child protection law (No. 23/2002) was adopted on 22 October 2002. Article 15 of the law states that every child shall be entitled to protection from involvement in armed conflict, involvement in social unrest, involvement in an "event that involves violence" and "misuse for political activities". In July 2003 Indonesia reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that, under Law No. 2/1988, the minimum age for recruitment or enlistment into the armed forces is 18. The government admitted that "Indonesia has yet to develop legislation to guarantee respect for this provision" or "a mechanism to monitor situations in which children are directly involved in hostilities".8

On 24 March 2004 the Defence Ministry announced that it was drafting legislation to make military service compulsory and that students would undergo basic training for two months after graduating from high school.9 However, in April the Education Minister rejected the plan as unnecessary, saying there were other ways for students to "boost their nationalism".10

Child recruitment and deployment

Children were not officially recruited to the armed forces but reports indicated that in NAD children were used as guards, guides, as cooks and to run errands, as well as being used as informants.11

Targeting of children

The Indonesian armed forces also targeted children suspected of GAM membership.12 In one reported case, children as young as 11 were killed.13 In May 2003 a military official said that ten GAM members from four villages in the area, including a 13 year old, had been shot during an armed clash after an explosion at a bridge.14 Indonesia's human rights commission found that "two children were among the victims [of extrajudicial killings]", but by early 2004 had not reached any conclusions as to who was responsible.15

Armed political groups

The involvement of mostly male children aged between 14 and 18 in GAM continued to be reported. Children were used as informants, to run errands, for logistical support, as cooks and messengers. There were some reports of children being used to steal weapons from military posts or to throw grenades and burn schools. Child soldiers interviewed in 2003 reported joining up voluntarily to seek revenge for violence inflicted on their families. Children also said they enlisted because of intimidation and threats by either the armed forces of GAM itself.16 A 14 year old was arrested with a grenade in early 2004.17 In June 2003 the military arrested two teenagers for allegedly attempting to set fire to a school, and said they had burned down 60 schools in the previous three years after being forced to join GAM.18 In August 2003 a military commander said that the average age of GAM members was between 14 and 25 years.19

The GAM leadership, based in Sweden, has denied using child soldiers and in June 2003 said they would be willing to allow an independent investigation.20

Children were reportedly used by militias in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and North Maluku during violence between 1998 and 2002. In some cases they were actively recruited into militias. In other cases they spontaneously participated in the armed defence of their communities during intercommunal conflict. Children were reportedly involved in both Christian and Muslim armed groups.21

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

Little information was available on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs in NAD.22 In June 2003 the government said it would provide land, tools, seeds and fertilizers to GAM members who surrendered.23 In July the ministries responsible for children, women and welfare joined private corporations in announcing plans to establish rehabilitation centres for children affected by the armed conflict.24 In August the government funded a five-month rehabilitation skills training program in the Masjid Raya subdistrict of Aceh, reportedly to assist 381 captured GAM members and supporters return to normal life.25 The program was subsequently expanded and by early 2004 several hundred were reportedly taking part in a "re-education" program which included "loyalty" exercises, such as flag-raising ceremonies and classes on nationality as well as skills training.26

Other developments

International standards

During the January 2004 UN Security Council meeting on children and armed conflict, Indonesia emphasized its strong support for the Optional Protocol and "the importance of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes in addressing the issue of child soldiers, especially in the post-conflict period".27

In its 2003 report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the government stated its intention in the following five years to ratify the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions and to establish "a national mechanism to provide protection, monitoring, and physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of children in situations of armed conflict".28

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 BBC News, "Country Profile: Indonesia", 13 November 2003,

2 Laksamana.Net, "Aceh martial law formally extended", 19 November 2003.

3 UNICEF, Humanitarian aid needed for children in Aceh, 23 May 2003.

4 Information from Amnesty International (AI), June 2004.

5 International Crisis Group (ICG), Aceh: how not to win hearts and minds, Asia briefing, 23 July 2003,; Jakarta Post, "Government to curb foreign NGOs in Aceh", 26 June 2003.

6 US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2003, February 2004,

7 Crisis Centre Diocese of Amboina, The situation in Ambon/Moluccas, Report No. 235, 13 February 2002, posted at World Evangelical Alliance,; ICG, Indonesia backgrounder: Jihad in Central Sulawesi, Asia Report No. 24, 3 February 2004.

8 Second periodic report of Indonesia to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/65/Add.23, 27 July 2003,; UNICEF, Adult wars, child soldiers: Voices of children involved in armed conflict in the East Asia and Pacific Region, October 2002, (Publications).

9 AFP, "Indonesia plans compulsory military service", ABC News online, 25 March 2004,

10 Jakarta Post, "Government split over military service", 13 April 2004.

11 Confidential source, 29 June 2004.

12 Human Rights Watch, Aceh under martial law: Inside the secret war, December 2003,

13 Orlando de Guzman, "They killed them one by one", BBC News, 21 May 2003; Sian Powell, "Children massacred by military", Daily Telegraph (UK), 23 May 2003; Time, "Young Blood", 2 June 2003.

14 Sian Powell, "Aceh children first to die", The Australian, 23 May 2003.

15 Reuters, "Signs of extrajudicial killings in Aceh – Commission", 13 June 2003.

16 Child Soldiers Coalition sources, Indonesia, June 2004; Patricia Nunan, "Ceasefire brings uneasy peace to Indonesia's Aceh Province", 24 March 2003, posted at Kabar Irian Daily News,

17 Waspada, "GAM Paksa Murid SD Granat Sekolahnya Sendiri", 23 January 2004.

18 Government news release, "No separatist rebel to be allowed to escape, says Minister", 8 June 2003, Indonesian embassy in Canberra,

19 Serambi Indonesia, "KPNI Jangan Jadi Ayam Sayur", 4 August 2003.

20 Lars Bevanger, "Aceh rebels at home in Stockholm", BBC, 9 June 2003.

21 Confidential source, 29 June 2004.

22 ICG, Aceh: how not to win hearts and minds, op. cit.

23 New Zealand Herald, "Indonesia pledges land for rebels who surrender", 23 June 2003.

24 Jakarta Post, "Child Commission to visit Aceh victims", 4 July 2003.

25 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Indonesia consolidated situation report, No. 142, 16-22 August 2003,

26 Information from AI, June 2004.

27 "Despite progress in protecting children in armed conflict, general situation remains 'grave and unacceptable', Security Council told", UN Press Release SC/7985, 20 January 2004,

28 Second periodic report to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, op. cit.


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