Republic of Angola

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 13.2 million (7.1 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 129,000-131,000
Compulsory recruitment age: 20
Voluntary recruitment age: 18 for men, 20 for women
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I, ILO 138, ILO 182; ACRWC

Child soldiers were used extensively during the civil war by both government armed forces and the armed opposition group, UNITA (União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola), National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. As many as 30,000 girls were estimated to have been abducted by fighting forces. An estimated 16,000 children in the forces of both sides required demobilization when the conflict ended in April 2002. After the conflict ended some soldiers recruited as children during the war remained with government forces, especially in rural areas, many having reached adulthood.


The government and UNITA agreed a ceasefire in April 2002 that ended the most recent period of fighting. Under the Luena Memorandum of Understanding, government forces were to be restructured and UNITA's forces demobilized with 5,000 UNITA soldiers to be incorporated into the army. Fighting continued between government troops and armed factions of the Frente de Libertação do Enclave de Cabinda (FLEC), Front for the Liberation of the Cabinda Enclave, in the Cabinda enclave, a major source of Angola's oil revenue. Following a renewed offensive in October 2002, the government began exploratory talks with FLEC.1

An estimated 4.5 million people were internally displaced and 450,000 fled to neighbouring countries during nearly three decades of conflict.2 Angola had among the world's worst child and maternal mortality rates, and half its predominantly youthful population had no access to safe water, health services or education.3 As of 2004, at times nearly 24 per cent of the population were living in extreme food insecurity.4


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1992 constitution stipulates that "The defence of the country shall be the right and the highest indeclinable duty of every citizen" (Article 152).5 Under Law 1/93, military service is compulsory for all men and women aged between 20 and 45, although in practice women were not recruited.6 The Decree of application on military service, No. 40/96 of 13 December 1996, established a minimum age of 18 for the voluntary recruitment of men and 20 for women.

The Angolan Parliament adopted a resolution to "adhere" to Optional Protocol in August 2002,7 but no formal instrument of ratification was deposited with the UN. In March 2003, the government gave a commitment not to conduct new recruitments to the armed forces in 2002 and 2003, and declared that those who had been child soldiers during the war were exempt from compulsory military service, although they could still be recruited on a voluntary basis.8

Child recruitment and deployment

Up until the 2002 ceasefire, thousands of child soldiers were used in government forces. After full-scale conflict broke out again in 1998, children had been rounded up in recruitment drives in government-held areas and forced to fight.9 After the 2002 ceasefire, although boys stationed in the capital were released from military service, child soldiers serving in rural areas were still being reported in December 2002.10

In March 2003 the government estimated that under-18s had composed 10 per cent of the armed forces at the end of the war.11 This approximated to 10,000 children, based on a 1999 estimate of a troop strength of 100,000.12 The actual number may have been considerably higher.13 As many as 30,000 girls were estimated to have been abducted by fighting forces during the war.14

The low rate of birth registrations, at around five per cent, complicated efforts to establish the number of under-18s in the armed forces.15 In 2003, children were reportedly still being recruited because of the difficulties in proving dates of birth.16

There had been reports of the recruitment of Namibian or Angolan refugee children in Namibia to fight in Angola, although after the 2002 ceasefire there were no further reports of this.17

Armed political groups

After the 2002 ceasefire, the government estimated that there were at least 6,000 – and possibly many more – underage UNITA combatants to be demobilized.18 Before the ceasefire, there were many reports of UNITA's recruitment of children under 18, sometimes forcibly, and their use as combatants, domestic servants and sex slaves.19 Smaller children served as cooks or gathered food, while older children carried arms and supplies or fought in battle. Girls were taken as "wives" by soldiers or forced to have sex with their guests. Boys and girls as young as eight years old were forced to carry heavy loads, whipped for not following orders, or sent on hazardous expeditions to collect food and firewood in areas held by government forces.20

There were two FLEC armed factions, FLEC-Renovada (FLEC-Renewed) and FLEC-Forças Armadas de Cabinda (FLEC-FAC), FLEC-Armed Forces of Cabinda. The latter was estimated at around 600 strong in 1998, and was also reported to have recruited children during the war, some as young as eight years old and at least 30 per cent of them girls. A similar situation was believed to exist in FLEC-Renovada.21 More recent information on FLEC recruitment of children was not available.

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

Child soldiers were given a lower priority in the implementation of the Luena agreement than under the earlier 1994 Lusaka Protocol, which had brought a fragile four-year truce.22 The Luena agreement required that UNITA combatants were first incorporated within the national army, and by February 2004 more than 90,000 had been demobilized, mainly with government support.23 In accordance with the minimum recruitment age, under-18s were not integrated into the armed forces or, therefore, demobilized within the government-run demobilization program. That program was for adults only, including soldiers recruited as children but who were 18 by the time of demobilization.24 The authorities classified the under-18s as family members and not soldiers, so that former child soldiers did not get similar assistance to adults.25

In May 2002 the government adopted a comprehensive "Post-war Child Protection Strategy", which included supporting and reintegrating former child soldiers. Children who had been soldiers or otherwise affected by the war reportedly received a "child rights package", comprising birth registration and civil identification documents, and access to family tracing and reunification services, education and skills training, and psychosocial support,26 although what was reported publicly versus what was actually delivered remains unclear. The first stage of this strategy, completed in March 2003, focused on releasing children from military control in UNITA quartering areas and providing them with immediate protection and help in tracing their families. Phase two, which was continuing into early 2004, involved the reintegration of nearly 3,500 children, including former child soldiers. Funding remained a major constraint.27

Children were reticent to identify themselves as former soldiers, and efforts were made not to distinguish between former soldiers, refugees and the internally displaced but to focus support on general reintegration in the community. Demobilization and reintegration programs for adults were criticized for discriminating against child soldiers, many of whom performed the same duties as adults during the conflict but who did not receive the same resettlement package.28

Women and girls taken as "wives" by UNITA feared exclusion from government aid and rejection when they returned to their communities. The disarmament, demobilization and reintegration program was restricted to UNITA soldiers, denying assistance to abducted women and girls.29

The World Bank granted US$33 million in February 2003 for the Angola Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project (ADRP), recognizing that "female, child and disabled ex-combatants often require customized economic, social and medical support to establish sustainable livelihoods". The project proposed support for underage soldiers and other children associated with government and UNITA forces.30

Other developments

The UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict visited Angola in May 2002, calling on the government to ratify the Optional Protocol and to support the urgent identification, rehabilitation and reintegration of former child combatants.31

International organizations were laying the groundwork for a national child protection coordinating group, with links to national, provincial and local authorities and to provincial coordinating groups, and a National Technical Unit to work with government and the ADRP.32 Relationships between the army and the social welfare ministry and the child rights authorities were also strengthened.33

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 IRIN, Special on Cabinda,

2 World Bank, Angola: Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project, February 2003, Report No. PID 11534,

3 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Africa First quarterly field report, 1994, Section 1.2.4.

4 Christian Children's Fund, Presentation on Community-Based Psychosocial Assistance in Angola, Regional Inter-Agency Meeting on Children and Armed Conflict, 2-5 February 2004.

5 Constitution,

6 B. Horeman and M. Stolwijk, Refusing to Bear Arms: A World Survey of Conscription and Conscientious Objection to Military Service, War Resisters International, London, 1998,

7 National Assembly, Resolution 21/02 of 13 August 2002.

8 Ministry of Social Welfare, Mesa Redonda sobre os desafios da Protecçao da Criança no processo de Reintegraçao, 7 March 2003.

9 Human Rights Watch (HRW), Forgotten fighters: Child soldiers in Angola, April 2003.

10 HRW, Forgotten fighters, op. cit.

11 Ministry of Social Welfare, op. cit.

12 International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), The Military Balance 1998-9, cited in Institute for Security Studies, Country Profiles: Angola, 8 November 2002,

13 World Bank, Angola: Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project, op. cit.

14 Christian Children's Fund, Peace in Angola brings critical needs, 11 July 2002, www. peace.

15 UNICEF, Humanitarian Appeal for Children and Women, January-December 2001, Angola.

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

17 Information from Legal Assistance Centre, Windhoek, 17 February 2004; and confidential source, 29 March 2004.

18 World Bank, Angola: Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project, op. cit.

19 Including HRW, Annual report 2000; US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000, February 2001.

20 HRW, Forgotten fighters, op. cit.

21 IISS, op. cit.; Africa Confidential, 11 April 1997; freelance journalist Peter Stranberg, quoted in the Angola entry in Child Soldiers Coalition's Global Report, 2001.

22 HRW, Forgotten fighters, op. cit.

23 World Bank, Angola: Multi-country demobilization and reintegration programme for the greater Great Lakes region, February 2004,

24 HRW, Forgotten fighters, op. cit.

25 Confidential source, Luanda, February 2004; World Bank, Angola: Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project, op. cit.

26 Ministry of Social Welfare, op. cit.; confidential source, op. cit.; IRIN, "Angola: Rehabilitation of child soldiers critical, UNICEF", 10 March 2003,

27 Confidential source, op. cit.; IRIN, "Angola: Moving child rights up the agenda", 9 April 2004.

28 HRW, Forgotten fighters, op. cit.; IRIN, "Angola: Former child soldiers forgotten, Human Rights Watch", 29 April 2003.

29 IRIN, "Angola: UNITA 'wives' fear exclusion from government aid", 10 March 2003.

30 World Bank, Angola: Emergency Demobilization and Reintegration Project, op. cit; IRIN, "Angola: World Bank grant to resettle ex-combatants", 9 September 2003.

31 Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, "UN Envoy for War-Affected Children Calls for Urgent Action to Halt Humanitarian Crisis in Angola", UN press release AFR/413 HR/4594, 17 May 2002.

32 Christian Children's Fund, Presentation on Community-Based Psychosocial Assistance in Angola, op. cit.

33 Angola government official, email to Child Soldiers Coalition, 29 March 2004.


This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.