Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 23.5 million (10.6 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 124,500 plus 75,000 National Guard (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
Voluntary recruitment age: 18
Voting age: not applicable
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ILO 182

There was no evidence of the use of under-18s.


Armed groups carried out bomb attacks in connection with the presence of US and western forces in the region. In 2003 the USA moved the bulk of its forces, stationed in Saudi Arabia since the 1991 Gulf war, to Qatar.


National recruitment legislation and practice

According to the constitution, "The defence of the Islamic religion, society, and country is a duty for each citizen" (Article 34). There is no conscription and the armed forces are made up of volunteers.1 Saudi Arabia reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that "The minimum age for enrolment in the armed forces is 18 years, when recruits start training and do not normally participate in military operations until the training courses have been completed".2

Increasing the size of the armed forces appeared to be a priority. On several occasions, government officials said that conscription would be introduced. In early 2003, the Interior Minister said that "If circumstances make compulsory conscription essential, then we will resort to it. All citizens are ready to serve their country".3

To augment its armed forces, Saudi Arabia used foreign recruits, although less so since a process of "Saudization" which accelerated from the late 1990s. A large Pakistani component of the armed forces expelled in the late 1980s had not been replaced, although Egyptian nationals may have been employed to address the shortage.4

In addition to the regular armed forces is the Saudi Arabia National Guard, which is under the control of the head of state, rather than the Ministry of Defence. It takes recruits primarily from tribes loyal to the ruling family, although the source for potential recruits has been widened to meet the demands for a larger force.5 In 2003, its strength was estimated at around 70,000.6

According to the government, there are no militias, and safeguards exist, including in military codes and articles, to ensure that under-18s are not recruited into the armed forces.7

Military training and military schools

Military training begins at the age of 18, and recruits are regarded "as students and not military subjects in the armed forces".8 Training takes place at four military schools: the King Abdul Aziz Military Academy, the King Fahd Airforce Academy, the Chief of Staffs Academy and the King Fahd Security Academy.

Members of the Saudi Arabia National Guard receive training at the King Khaled Military Academy and from the US-based Vinnell Corporation.9

Armed political groups

Armed opposition was manifested in several bombings, often of western targets. Responsibility for the attacks was attributed to indigenous armed opposition groups, such as the Islamic Movement for Change, or to groups linked to external forces such as Hizbollah or al-Qaeda. There was no evidence of the involvement of under-18s with these groups.

1 Rachel Brett and Margaret McCallin, Children: The Invisible Soldiers, Rädda Barnen (Save the Children – Sweden), Stockholm, 1998.

2 Initial report of Saudi Arabia to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/61/Add.2, 29 March 2000,

3 Saudi Arabia Information Resource,

4 Anthony Cordesman, "Saudi Military Leadership, Organization, and Manpower", Saudi Arabia Enters the 21st Century: The Military and Internal Security Dimension (draft document), Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, October 2002.

5 Global, "Saudi Arabia National Guard",

6 "Firm was 'cover for CIA'", The Times (London), 14 May 2003,

7 Correspondence from Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, London, 22 April 2004.

8 Correspondence from Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, op. cit.

9 Global, op. cit.


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