Children’s Rights (12): Child Soldiers, Why and How?

Why are children recruited for warfare? Why not just use adults who are likely to be more capable and reliable soldiers? There’s an interesting paper here looking at some of the reasons:

  • Children are relatively easy to abduct, subjugate, and manipulate. They are more impressionable and vulnerable to indoctrination, and their moral development is incomplete and malleable.
  • They are also seen as more loyal and less threatening to adult leadership.
  • Children, despite their a priori disadvantages in terms of fighting skills, may have a particular functional value. They may be suitable for menial logistical support of the armed group, or they may even have certain tactical advantages: they can slip through enemy lines unnoticed, making them effective spies and bomb carriers. Also, the proliferation of inexpensive, lightweight weapons has made it easier to use children as soldiers. These small arms are easy to transport and use with little training.
  • Rebel groups also make simple cost-benefit analysis: children require less food and no payment. Punishment of children is also less costly. Child soldiers are financially attractive. Rebel groups may be extremely resource-constrained and forced to recruit children.
  • The use of child soldiers can present a moral dilemma to enemies: should they kill children?
  • Rebel groups may recruit children in order to signal seriousness, commitment and ruthlessness, and thereby instill fear in the enemy.

How are child soldiers recruited? Patterns of recruitment of children vary according to the context. It’s usually a mix of punishment, promises of rewards and indoctrination.

  • The recruitment of children is facilitated when they are forced to participate in an assassination (perhaps of one of their relatives, parents or friends). The objective is to break their will. The forced killing of relatives also destroys a child’s outside options: if the child were to flee, it has no place to go to, or the community may reject the child because of what it did.
  • Armed forces will also destroy other outside options for children: schools, villages, farms etc.
  • Armed forces abuse children’s feelings of desperation and traumas resulting from previous situations of extreme violence.
  • Armed forces also abuse certain motivations of children: children may join armed forces because of the desire to take control of events, or because of the protection offered by being at the shooting end of a gun.
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