Justice for children


The great tragedy of conflict is that the most vulnerable suffer its consequences most.

Children caught in the cross fire are murdered, maimed, and raped. And they are also used by armed groups as porters, soldiers and front-line combatants, kidnapped as sex slaves and forced into marriage. Children are easily pressured and manipulated into themselves committing grave crimes, alienating them from their families and communities.

Prosecuting crimes against children at the ICC

Recognizing the unimaginable atrocities that children suffer, the ICC Rome Statute highlights the importance of investigating and prosecuting crimes against or affecting children. Grave crimes against children within the Rome Statute include the conscription and use of children under 15 as child soldiers, trafficking as a form of enslavement, forcible transfer of children, persecution, attacks against buildings dedicated to education and sexual and gender based crimes.

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor 2016-2018 Strategic Plan gives particular attention to crimes against children at all stages of investigation and prosecutions. In 2016 the OTP published a Policy Paper on Children reaffirming its commitment to seek to include charges for crimes directed against children in its cases, and be sensitive in its own interaction with children.

Civil society monitors the work of the ICC to ensure children’s rights are protected, particularly in cases where children are victims of or witnesses to heinous crimes described by the Rome Statute.

Ensuring the ICC is a model institution in its approach to mass atrocities against children requires greater cooperation, resources, and coordination with NGOs, the UN, regional organizations, and development organizations.

While international prosecutions of grave crimes against children bring hope to the most vulnerable in conflict zones worldwide, states—bearing the primary responsibility to protect children—must do much more.

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Children, not soldiers

Hundreds of thousands of children around the world—some as young as eight—are forced to serve as soldiers for governments and non-state armed groups in conflicts around the world. The age old problem is a driver of conflict in its own right. This brutal crime exacerbates the already devastating toll on children in situations of armed conflict, forcing them to participate in unimaginable acts of violence and robbing them of their innocence and their future, along with that of their communities.

The enlistment and recruitment of children under fifteen, or using them to participate actively in hostilities are war crimes under the ICC Rome Statute. The prosecution of child soldier war crimes has been central to the prosecution strategy of the ICC OTP in its first trials.

In 2012, in the Court’s first trial and verdict, ICC judges found Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga guilty of enlisting and conscripting children under the age of 15 and using them in hostilities in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2002-03. In March 2015, the ICC Appeals Chamber set out five key principles for reparations. Judges decided that reparations would be awarded collectively given the potential number of victims, with former child soldiers recruited by Lubanga among those standing to benefit. They also stated that all victims are to be treated fairly and equally, that reparations should include reintegration of former child soldiers and be gender inclusive.

In 2016, the OTP charged the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen with 70 counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed in northern Uganda in 2002. The charges included the forced enlistment and use of child soldiers under the age of fifteen years. This trial marks the first time that a former child soldier is being prosecuted at the ICC. Ongwen was recruited into the ranks of the LRA himself when he was at around 10 years old.

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Sexual and gender-based crimes against children

Sexual and gender-based crimes, including those against children, are used as a weapon of war in conflicts around the world. The Rome Statute extensively addresses conflict-related sexual and gender-based crimes as crimes against humanity, war crimes, and, in some instances, genocide.  It is the first international treaty to do so.

By consistently investigating and prosecuting all instances of sgbc under the Rome Statute, the OTP plays an important role in bringing justice to populations of children suffering most from these heinous crimes.

Read more about sexual and gender-based crimes

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