Bolivia: 'Voluntary' conscription of 17 year-olds and plans for substitute service

Bolivia army marching

Plans for an alternative 'Social Action Service' have been announced by the Bolivian Ministry of Defence. Currently, no substitute to military service exists in the country.

A bill, presented in September, proposed a two year substitute service - one year longer than military service - and that the system be controlled by the police (the Grupo de Apoyo Civil a la Policía). International standards dictate that alternative service should not be of a punitive nature, and should be in line with the reasons for the objection. It is likely that many objectors would not submit to a service run by the police, who are sometimes armed, usually organised in a militarised manner, and for twice the length of military service.

The draft law will now be considered by the Armed Forces and Police Commission of the Chamber of Deputies.

In other changes announced in May, a new military service law sanctioned the recruitment of 17 year olds - a kind of 'voluntary' conscription, open to those who give their consent, and also have the consent of parents or guardians. This follows the 2016 Constitutional Court decision which declared a previous attempt at lowering the recruitment age to 17 'unconstitutional'.

At the same time, they extended voluntary conscription to women. Incidentally, Bolivia remain the only State in Latin America to admit trans* people to the military.

Sources: Bolivia: solidarity statement from Colombian objectors after CO loses his case; court rules recent lowering in the age of recruitment to 17 years unconstitutional, War Resisters' International, 13 April 2016; Amplían a 17 años la edad para el servicio militar obligatorio, Ministerio de Defensa, 8 February 2017; Bolivia es el único país de América Latina que permite a personas trans en las Fuerzas Armadas, CNN Español, 27 July 2017; En Bolivia se habilita el Servicio Militar Voluntario de un año para mujeres, La Razon, 24th May 2017; Plantean el servicio social como alternativa al militar, Los Tiempos, 10 August 2017; Diputado presenta anteproyecto de ley para crear alternativa al servicio militar de Bolivia,, 9 September 2017.

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