Kingdom of the Netherlands

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 16.1 million (3.5 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 53,130
Compulsory recruitment age: conscription suspended
Voluntary recruitment age: 17
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: signed 7 September 2000
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ICC, ILO 138, ILO 182

The minimum age for voluntary recruitment was 17. In 2004 around 340 recruits aged 17 were serving in the armed forces. Official policy specified that under-18s could not be deployed in overseas military operations where hostilities were taking place.


In 2004 almost 2,000 Dutch military personnel were on foreign deployment, including over 1,300 in the US-led occupation forces in Iraq and around 450 in the NATO-led Stabilisation Force (SFOR) in Bosnia.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

The constitution states that "All Dutch nationals who are capable of doing so shall have a duty to cooperate in maintaining the independence of the state and defending its territory.... This duty may also be imposed on residents of the Netherlands who are not Dutch nationals" (Article 97). The constitution provides for conscription, stating that "To protect its interests, the State shall maintain armed forces which consist of volunteers and which can also consist of conscripts.... Compulsory service in the armed forces and the power to postpone the call-up in active service shall be regulated by an Act of Parliament" (Article 98).2

In its second periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in June 2003, the Netherlands stated, "Since 1997 the Dutch armed forces have consisted wholly of people joining of their own will. Compulsory military service does not exist".3 The Military Service Law (Kaderwet Dienstplicht) allows conscription for 18 year olds to be reinstated, either for training and education only but not for combat duties (Article 40) or, in an emergency and by Royal Decree, for all purposes (Article 20).4

"The minimum age at which one can join the armed services is 17", the Netherlands stated in June 2003, "and no military personnel under 18 years of age are deployed in peacekeeping or peace enforcement operations, or in other international operations in trouble spots".5 Recruitment policy and the selection of personnel for service abroad were modified in 1996 to reflect the growing international consensus on the need to raise the minimum ages for recruitment and involvement in combat.6

The Ministry of Defence said in June 2004 that a minimum age of 17 for voluntary recruitment would be incorporated into the Military Personnel Law (Militaire Ambtenarenwet) in the near future. Under planned changes, 17 year olds would form a special category of "aspiring military personnel" (aspirant-militair ambtenaar), who would not be allowed to serve in any combat capacity at home or abroad, or to use weapons or live ammunition except on the shooting range. They would need to have written parental consent to join, would be able to terminate their service before reaching 18, and would not be formally admitted to the armed forces until they were 18. In 2004 around 340 members of the armed forces were 17 year olds.7

Military training and military schools

There are no military secondary schools. The minimum age of admission to military academies is 17. The Royal Military Academy and the Royal Institute for the Navy train future career officers and short-term officers. Their status is comparable to that of universities, and students must have completed secondary school to qualify for admission. The military academies are considered part of the armed forces, and are being modernized in line with reforms outlined in the Defence White Paper 2000.8

International standards

The Netherlands does not support a "straight18" position and there were no plans to raise the age of voluntary recruitment from 17 to 18.9 In June 2003 the government outlined its position to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: "The Convention lays down a minimum age of 15 for recruitment to or membership of the armed forces and for participation in armed conflicts. In the Netherlands the minimum age for both membership of the armed forces and participation in armed conflicts is higher than 15".10

1 Ministry of Defence, (Current Dutch participation in international operations abroad).

2 Constitution, at Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

3 Second periodic report of the Netherlands to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/117/Add.1, 5 June 2003,

4 Military Service Law, Staatsblad 1997, 139.

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

6 Initial report of the Netherlands to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/51/Add. 1, 24 July 1997.

7 Communication from Ministry of Defence, 18 June 2004.

8 Communication from Ministry of Defence, op. cit.; Defence White Paper 2000

9 Communication from Ministry of Defence, op. cit.

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


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