The United States has not instituted a system of compulsory conscription/service in the Armed Forces since the Vietnam War, although all American men are required by law to enroll with the Selective Service System within 30 days of their 18th birthday should the need for another mandatory draft arise. Females are exempt from this requirement.
Still, some people may not see joining the military as an obligation or a means to an end of paying for college, but rather as a way to serve one’s country and to honor those family members and other servicemen and women who fought for American ideals in past conflicts. In fact, some citizens may not even wish to wait until they become an adult to put their lives on the line for what they believe to be an admirable and highly necessary purpose.
Though American military juvenile law is realistically its own category, it is likely influenced at least in part by international policy, as are a number of foreign juvenile laws based on international law. According to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), first published late in 1989, allowing children younger than 15 to participate in military affairs should be avoided at all costs. A 2000 protocol to the UNCRC concerning the use of children in armed conflict pertained to the world’s commitment to limiting mandatory service of individuals younger than 18.
These sentiments are echoed by elements of juvenile law contained within the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which makes military service of children younger than 15 punishable as a war crime, and to which over 100 countries have aligned their own juvenile laws or at the very least are party to the treaty. Going back to the United States, though, it has yet to put either measure into effect, expressly voting against the Rome Statute. Perhaps surprisingly, America is one of only two nations in the world (along with Somalia) not to ratify the Convention.
Still, seeing the aforementioned terms of Selective Service (i.e. only open to males between the ages of 18 and 25) and the minimum age of enlistment, U.S. juvenile law may have its outside influences. Minors realistically have a small window to join a branch of the Armed Forces before the age of legal responsibility, and according to a few state juvenile laws, this will not be possible at all. American males must be 17 to serve their country, and even then, will not be able to join without parental consent unless emancipated.
With all the protections of juvenile law against voluntary and involuntary conscription of young children in the United States, however, and as somewhat of a bone of contention for parents and other concerned citizens, there is little to no protection against representatives of the U.S. military targeting young children to advertise service in the Armed Forces down the road, notably children from underprivileged homes and minority ethnic backgrounds. At worst, this could potentially take children out of college, keeping their focus off their other options and into mortal peril on the front lines in ongoing foreign conflicts and military occupations.