Population: 1,315.8 million (352.7 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 2,255,000
Compulsary Recruitment Age: 18
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 17 (see text)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 20 February 2008
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 138, ILO 182
Because of the high number of volunteers, it had apparently not been necessary to enforce conscription. The minimum voluntary recruitment age was apparently 17. There were close links between the military and the education system, and secondary-school and higher education students were required by law to undergo some military training.
The predominantly Muslim population in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, particularly alleged Uighur nationalists characterized by the government as "ethnic separatists, terrorists and religious extremists",1 continued to face denial of their human rights, including freedom of religion and access to education. The authorities used the "war on terror", initiated by the United States (USA) following the attacks of 11 September 2001, as justification for the detention and imprisonment of alleged Uighur separatists.2 An increased number of Uighurs were extradited to China from Central Asian countries, reflecting growing pressure by China on governments in the region. One individual, who was under 18 at the time of his arrest in Pakistan in 2001 and who was subsequently detained in Guantánamo Bay, was among a group of five Uighurs who were released and transferred to Albania in May 2006.3
Restrictions on the rights to religious belief, expression and association, and discrimination in employment, continued to be reported from the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas.4 Many people were detained, including children between the ages of approximately six and ten.5
China was a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), established in June 2001, comprising also Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, whose goals included mutual co-operation in security matters.6
National recruitment legislation and practice
The 1982 constitution provided for conscription as the sacred obligation of every citizen of the People's Republic of China to defend the motherland and resist aggression, and provided for the power of the president to proclaim a state of war and issue mobilization orders (Articles 55 and 80).
The 1984 Military Service Law, revised in 1998, provided the legal basis for military service. The armed forces were recruited mainly by conscription but included volunteers and a militia with a reserve service (Article 2).7 Article 12 stated that "Each year, male citizens who have reached 18 years of age by 31 December shall be enlisted for active service. Those who are not enlisted during the year shall remain eligible for active service until they are 22. To meet the needs of the armed forces, female citizens may be enlisted for active service." Conscripts had to be registered for military service by 30 September in the year in which they turned 18 (Article 13). However, it appeared that, because of the number of volunteers from rural areas and the downsizing of the standing army, the Peoples' Liberation Army had not found it necessary to enforce conscription.
The minimum age for voluntary recruitment was not specified in the Military Service Law, which stated, "To meet the needs of the armed forces and on the principle of voluntary participation, male and female citizens who have not yet reached 18 years of age by 31 December of a certain year may be enlisted for active service" (Article 22). However, in the "Decision of the State Council and the Central Military Commission on Amending the Regulations on Conscription Work" of September 2001, Article 3(3) of the Regulations on Conscription Work was revised as follows: "To meet the needs of the armed forces and on the principle of voluntary participation, male and female citizens who have reached 17 years of age but have not yet reached 18 years of age by 31 December of a certain year may be enlisted for active service."8 This appeared to impose a minimum voluntary recruitment age of 17. China's second periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child quoted the Military Service Law as stipulating that "no one in China under the age of 15 may voluntarily enlist in any armed force".9 This might, however, be an error.
In its declaration to the Optional Protocol, China stated that the minimum age for voluntary recruitment was 17. However, there was an apparent contradiction later in the declaration, which stated that the Regulations on the Recruitment of Soldiers "provides that in order to meet the needs of the armed forces and on the principle of voluntary participation, male and female citizens who have not yet reached 17 years of age by 31 December of a given year may be recruited for active service".10
Reservists in the militia or reserve service had to be between 18 and 35 (Article 23) but age limits could be extended, including "in frontier areas on land or sea, areas inhabited by minority nationalities as well as urban units in special circumstances" (Articles 37 and 38). The militia provided assistance and support to the People's Liberation Army, including in preparations against war, defending China's borders and maintaining public order, as well as participating in combat operations (Article 36).11
Military training and military schools
The Law on Military Service stated that "military institutes and academies may, according to the needs in building up the armed forces, enrol cadets from among young students. The age limit for the cadets to be enrolled must be the same as that for the active servicemen" (Article 30). It therefore appeared that under-18s could enrol for military training at specialist institutions.
There were close links between the military and the education system. The Military Service Law required secondary school and higher education students to undergo one month's military training (Articles 43-46).
The Law on the Protection of Minors which came into effect in 1992 defined "minors" as "citizens under the age of eighteen". A revised Law on the Protection of Minors was adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress and came into force on 1 June 2007. It required People's Courts to set up special tribunals to try cases involving under-age offenders and ensure that a guardian was present when a child was questioned by the police or prosecutors.12
While millions of children accompanied migrant worker parents, it was estimated that as many as 20 million rural children, most of them cared for by relatives, were left behind by parents migrating to cities to work. The residency registration system, which restricted access to education and healthcare, discouraged migrant worker parents from taking their children with them. Official reports claimed negative consequences in health, schooling and psychological development in children left behind.13
A September 2006 amendment to the Compulsory Education Law (which guaranteed nine years of free education to all children) provided for the right to education of children of migrant workers regardless of where they resided in the country.14 However, more than 50 schools for the children of migrant workers were reportedly closed down in Beijing in September 2006, the authorities claiming that the schools were unregistered and substandard.15 It was widely assumed the closures were linked to a crackdown on unregistered migrant workers in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.16
China had submitted a second periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in June 2003. In the concluding observations to its consideration of the report, the Committee called for an independent expert to be allowed to visit and confirm the well-being of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the disputed reincarnation of the Panchen Lama – the second most important figure in Tibet after the Dalai Lama.17 Gedhun Choekyi Nyima had disappeared in 1995, aged six, and had since then been held by the Chinese authorities in "protective custody".18
At a February 2007 ministerial meeting in Paris, China and 58 other states endorsed the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and the Paris Principles and guidelines on children associated with armed forces or armed groups. The documents reaffirmed international standards and operational principles for protecting and assisting child soldiers and followed a wide-ranging global consultation jointly sponsored by the French government and UNICEF.
1 On the labelling of Chinese Uighur separatists as "terrorists", see Human Rights Watch (HRW), Devastating blows, religious repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, April 2005.
2 Amnesty International Report 2006.
3 Confidential source, September 2007.
4 Amnesty International Report 2007.
7 Military Service Law of 31 May 1984.
9 Second periodic report of China to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/83/Add.9, 15 July 2005.
10 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, China: Ratification, 20 February 2008, http://untreaty.un.org/English/CNs/2008/101_200/164E.pdf.
11 Military Service Law, above note 7.
15 Amnesty International Report 2007.
16 HRW, "China: Beijing closes schools for migrant children in pre-Olympic clean-up", 25 December 2006. See also Amnesty International (AI), People's Republic of China: Internal migrants: discrimination and abuse: the human cost of an economic "miracle" (ASA 17/008/2007), 1 March 2007.
17 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of second periodic report submitted by China, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/CHN/CO/2, 24 November 2005.
18 "Tibet's missing spiritual guide", BBC News, 16 May 2005.