The Age of Criminal Responsibility in International Criminal Law

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL ACCOUNTABILITY AND THE RIGHTS OF CHILDREN, Karin Arts, Vesselin Popovski, (eds), The Hague: T.M.C. Asser Press, 2006

13 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2006

See all articles by Matthew Happold

Matthew Happold

Université du Luxembourg; Universite du Luxembourg - Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance


In recent years, there has been a growth in concern about the recruitment and use of child soldiers. A recent survey by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers found that during the period 2001-4 children were actively involved in conflict in some 27 countries around the world. Efforts have focused on prohibiting the recruitment and use of children to participate in hostilities, and, more recently, in seeking to prosecute those responsible for such practices. However, one of the reasons why armed forces and groups recruit child soldiers is that they are more easily led and more suggestible than are adults. Children are less socialised, and more docile and malleable than adults, and hence are more easily persuaded or coerced into committing atrocities. Even if not specifically recruited for such purposes, children's lack of mental and moral development may mean that they are more prone to behaving badly than are adult troops. Indeed, in a number of recent conflicts child soldiers have been used deliberately to commit atrocities.

This article seeks to discuss how international law might deal with child soldiers who commit international crimes, focusing on whether there exists a minimum age of criminal responsibility in international criminal law. It concludes that there are good reasons, from a children's rights perspective, for seeing children as moral actors and, hence, accountable for their actions. However, accountability does not always involve criminal responsibility. Even if held criminally responsible for their actions, children should not necessarily be dealt with in the same ways as adults.

Keywords: child soldiers, age of criminal responsibility, international criminal law

JEL Classification: K14, K33

Suggested Citation

Happold, Matthew, The Age of Criminal Responsibility in International Criminal Law. Available at SSRN:

Matthew Happold (Contact Author)

Université du Luxembourg ( email )

Faculté de Droit, d'Économie et de Finance
148, avenue de la Faïencerie
L-1511 Luxembourg

Universite du Luxembourg - Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance ( email )

162a, avenue de la Faïencerie
Luxembourg-Limpertsberg, L-1511

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