Lao People's Democratic Republic

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 5.5 million (2.7 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 29,100 (estimate)
Compulsory recruitment age: 17 or 18 (unclear) (no conscription in practice)
Voluntary recruitment age: not known
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: not signed
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II

The minimum ages for conscription and voluntary enlistment were unclear, and in practice conscription did not exist. It was not known whether under-18s were serving in government forces. Armed opposition groups used children in hostilities.


The Lao People's Revolutionary Party was the only legal political party, and in March 2002 held 98 of the 99 seats in the National Assembly.1 Ethnic minority groups, predominantly Hmong, were involved in armed conflict with the Lao military in jungle areas of the country. In October 2003 government forces reportedly surrounded several opposition groups, preventing them and their families from foraging for food.2 Armed opposition forces subsequently increased deliberate or indiscriminate bombings in civilian areas.3 In January 2004 government forces launched armed attacks against thousands of members of ethnic Hmong opposition groups and civilians in the jungles north of Vang Vieng.4


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1991 constitution states that "Lao citizens have the obligation to defend the country, to maintain the people's security and to fulfil military obligations as prescribed by law" (Article 36). The President may authorize general or partial military conscription and declare a state of emergency nationwide or in a particular locality (Article 53).5

A Lao official told a Child Soldiers Coalition conference in 2000 that 18 was the minimum age for recruitment, that conscription is enforced, and that recruits must serve for at least 18 months.6 However, the legal basis for conscription was not known and it was not implemented in practice.7 A 1994 US Library of Congress report said that 17 was the minimum age for recruitment.8

It was not known whether under-18s were serving in the armed forces.

Armed political groups

In 2003 evidence emerged of the use of child soldiers by Hmong armed opposition groups. This included evidence from journalists who visited Laos clandestinely and photographed children with guns in jungle areas.9 In 2003, Amnesty International urged opposition groups not to permit children to participate in combat.10

Other developments

The East Asia Pacific Children and Young People's Regional Forum was held in Vientiane, Laos, in July 2001. Child and youth participants reviewed the Beijing Declaration, adopted by the Fourth UN World Conference on Women in 1995, and the planned Outcome Document, "A World Fit for Children", of the forthcoming UN General Assembly Special Session on Children.11 The Forum recommended that the UN Special Session on Children should be followed up by the development by governments, non-governmental organizations and children of National Action Plans to address children's rights.12

1 BBC, "Country Profile: Laos",

2 Amnesty International (AI), Laos: Use of starvation as a weapon of war against civilians, 2 October 2003,

3 Amnesty International Report 2004, http://web.

4 AFP, "Lao government launches new offensive on Hmong rebels – exiles", 7 January 2004.

5 Constitution,

6 Child Soldiers Coalition, Conference Report, Asia-Pacific Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Kathmandu, May 2000.

7 Information from AI, April 2004.

8 US Library of Congress, Laos: A country study, Federal Research Division, July 1994,, or http://countrystudies. us/laos.

9 TIME Asia Magazine, "Welcome to the Jungle", 5 May 2003.

10 AI, Laos: Use of starvation, op. cit.

11 The Special Session was originally scheduled for September 2001, but, because of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the USA, was rescheduled and took place in May 2002.

12 UN Special Session on Children Newsletter, August/September 2001,….


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