Symbolic photo: Two children running through a dry area in Mali.
Mali/Sahel: Publication

Legal framework on child soldiers in Mali

28 February 2022

In Mali, children are not only among the main victims of armed conflict, but they are also recruited and used by armed groups as instruments of violence. This brief sets out the legal framework applicable to the recruitment and use of children in hostilities by the parties to the armed conflict in Mali.

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Symbolic photo: Two children running through a dry area in Mali.
Cadre juridique: Enfants soldats au Mali

Given the current landscape of the armed conflict in Mali, where recent reports paint a worrying picture of a dramatic increase in child recruitment and use in hostilities, this study aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the applicable legal framework in terms of international humanitarian law (IHL) on the issue of recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, providing a link to the Malian context. It is intended that this study will not only strengthen the capacity of various actors in Mali on the international legal protection of children during armed conflicts but also assist them in developing strategies to enhance the protection of children in conflict-affected zones to end children recruitment and use in hostilities in the country.

Even though under general international law a child is defined as a person under the age of 18, under conventional IHL, national armed forces and non-state armed groups involved in armed conflict must not recruit children under the age of 15 or involve them directly in hostilities.

In the event that recruitment of persons under the age of 15 occurs, IHL requires that national armed forces party to an international armed conflict (IAC) must take all necessary (but not all possible) measures to ensure that children under the age of 15 do not take a direct part in hostilities.

In non-international armed conflicts (NIAC), it is not possible for parties to invoke the fact that they have taken measures to avoid direct participation; the prohibition on the recruitment and participation of children under the age of 15 contained is absolute.

The scope of this prohibition has been developed and strengthened in international criminal law and is codified as a war crime in the Rome Statute of the ICC as being capable of being committed in IACs and in NACs. In other words, international law places significant limits on the participation of children in military life in a broad sense but does not prohibit it entirely.