Children are explicitly protected under international humanitarian law (IHL), also known as the laws of war or the laws of armed conflict. These protections are outlined in various international treaties, conventions, and customary international law. The primary instruments providing for the protection of children in armed conflict include:

  1. The Geneva Conventions of 1949: These four conventions, along with their Additional Protocols, provide fundamental protections for civilians and combatants during armed conflict. They include specific provisions safeguarding the rights of children, particularly Common Article 3, which applies to non-international armed conflicts, and Additional Protocol I and II, which provide detailed rules for international and non-international armed conflicts, respectively.
  2. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC): Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, the CRC is the most comprehensive international treaty on children’s rights. It recognizes the special vulnerabilities of children during armed conflict and emphasizes their right to special protection and care. The Optional Protocol to the CRC on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict sets 18 as the minimum age for direct participation in hostilities and prohibits the recruitment and use of children under 15 in armed forces or armed groups.
  3. Customary International Law: Certain rules and principles of international humanitarian law have attained the status of customary international law, binding on all states, regardless of whether they have ratified specific treaties. Customary international law includes rules protecting children during armed conflict, such as the prohibition of attacks against civilians, the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, and the prohibition of the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
  4. Other International Instruments: Various other international treaties and instruments address specific aspects of children’s rights during armed conflict, such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Paris Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups.

Under these legal frameworks, children are entitled to special protection and care, including protection from violence, recruitment and use as child soldiers, separation from their families, and access to essential services such as education, healthcare, and humanitarian assistance. Efforts to uphold and enforce these protections are essential to ensuring the well-being and rights of children affected by armed conflict.