French Republic

Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 59.9 million (13.5 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 259,050
Compulsory recruitment age: 18 until January 2003 (conscription now suspended)
Voluntary recruitment age: 17
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 5 February 2003
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, GC AP I and II, ICC, ILO 138, ILO 182

The minimum voluntary recruitment age was 17 for government armed forces, although recruits could not enlist until 1 October of the year in which they reached the age of 18 years and parental consent was required. The minimum voluntary recruitment age for the Foreign Legion was 17 but it was not known whether under-18s were serving.


Traditionally, France has had a large military presence abroad. In 2004 French troops were taking part in UN peacekeeping operations overseas, including in Afghanistan, Côte d'Ivoire, Haiti and Kosovo. Since 1998 France has been involved in the RECAMP program (Reinforcement of African Peacekeeping Capacities), in which French, United Kingdom (UK) and US troops support the defence capabilities of government forces in Africa.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

The 1997-2002 Military Planning Act provides for the suspension of conscription as part of a reform program to professionalize and reorganize the armed forces that has reduced the number of troops and closed 80 out of 160 defence establishments.2 Conscription was suspended from 1 January 2003 under the Law on National Service Reform, Law No. 97-1019 of 28 October 1997, which amended the 1972 National Service Code. President Jacques Chirac announced on 29 June 2001 that, in practice, compulsory military service would be suspended at the end of 2001. Law No. 97-1019 allows the government to reinstate conscription at any time (Article L112-2) and the legislation providing for national service has not been repealed. The minimum age for compulsory recruitment is 18, under Law No. 72662 of 13 July 1972 (Article 88).3

The 1997 Law on National Service Reform granted exemption from military service to men born after 31 December 1978 and women born after 31 December 1982 (Article L112-1). During the 1997-2002 transition period outlined by the reform plan, men born before January 1979 were still required to perform ten months of service. Instead of national service, French boys and girls are required to attend a "call-up day for defence preparedness" (journée d'appel de préparation à la défense), where they are informed about the benefits of a military career. They must register for the one-day program before they are 16 and attend one before they are 18 (Articles L113-1, L114-2). After the program, they may volunteer for civilian or military service, join the armed forces or undergo training. The 1997 law also provides for all school students to take a compulsory course on defence as part of the school curriculum.4

Under the 1997 law, the minimum age for voluntary recruitment is 18 (Article L121-1). Service is for 12 months and may be renewed every year for up to five years. The National Service Code specifies that volunteers may enlist from 1 October of the year in which they turn 18 (Book II, Article L5). Volunteers under 18 may enlist with parental consent under Law No 72-662 of 13 July 1972 (Article 88).

Voluntary recruits to the Foreign Legion must be between 17 and 40. Under-18s must have parental consent to enlist. Selected candidates sign a five-year unconditional contract to serve anywhere in the world. They are trained for four months at the Fourth Foreign Regiment in Castelnaudray before being posted.5

Military training and military schools

Military schools in France include four for the army (Prytanée national militaire, Prytanée national militaire, Lycée Militaire d'Aix-en-Provence, and Lycée Militaire d'Autun) and one for the navy (Lycée Naval de Brest). Students are admitted to the air force school, the Ecole d'Enseignement Technique de l'Armée de L'Air de Saintes, from the age of 16. There is also a Polytechnic School (Ecole Polytechnique). Under Law No 70-631 of July 1970, as amended by Law 94-577 of July 1994, candidates for the Polytechnic School must be 17 to sit admission exams and may enter the school during the year in which they turn 18.6


International standards

At a special UN Security Council session on Children in Armed Conflict on 20 January 2004, the Permanent Representative of France to the UN-backed international mechanisms to combat the use of child soldiers, and said France had presented a draft resolution to Security Council members, the main aim of which was close monitoring of the recruitment and use of child soldiers by armed groups.7

1 Permanent Mission of France to the UN,

2 French embassy, UK, Reform of French national defence, http://ambafrance-

3 Loi no 97-1019 du 28 octobre 1997 portant réforme du service national (Law No. 97-1019 of 28 October 1997 on National Service Reform), (Les lois et règlements).

4 Ministry of Defence, National Service,

5 French embassy, USA, (Foreign Legion).

6 Ministry of Defence, (Lycées militaires), and (Les formations).

7 Children in armed conflicts, Statement made by the Permanent Representative of France to the UN Security Council, 20 January 2004,


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