Small Wars Journal

Child Soldiers

John Sullivan; a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism, a member of the board of advisors for the Terrorism Research Center, Inc., a lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department and SWJ Blogger to boot; sent an e-mail alerting us to an Air & Space Power Journal (Spanish Edition) issue on child soldiers.

Here are the links to the English translation versions of the articles:

You'll Have to Learn Not to Cry... by the editors of Air & Space Power Journal

This issue of Air and Space Power Journal addresses the study, understanding, and dissemination of tragic problem of concern not only to military personnel in the battlefield but also to civilian populations around the world: the use of "child soldiers" by armed forces, religious fanatics, and insurgent groups. Specifically, this edition seeks to provide a better understanding of this tragic issue, foster better awareness, and find solutions to the problem.

History confirms that in the past, wars were fought mainly by adults as part of state armies. Today, however, children—some of them younger than 18 years of age—participate in warfare. The warring parties often abduct or force them to fight against their will, disregarding with impunity the international laws applicable to the rights and protection of children.

The New Children of War by Dr. Peter Singer.

The nature of armed conflict, though, has changed greatly in the past few years. Now the presence of children is the new rule of standard behavior in war, rather than the rarity that it used to be. The result is that war in the twenty-first century is not only more tragic but also more dangerous. With children's involvement, generals, warlords, terrorists, and rebel leaders alike are finding that conflicts are easier to start and harder to end.

The practice of using children, defined under international law as under the age of 18, as soldiers is far more widespread and more important than most realize. There are as many as 300,000 children under the age of 18 presently serving as combatants around the globe (making them almost 10 percent of all global combatants). They serve in 40 percent of the world's armed forces, rebel groups, and terrorist organizations and fight in almost 75 percent of the world's conflicts; indeed, in the last five years, children have served as soldiers on every continent but Antarctica. Moreover, an additional half-million children serve in armed forces not presently at war.

Child Soldier as Tactical Innovation by Robert Tynes.

Suppose that you are on patrol in Medellí­n, Colombia. As you pass a house, you hear shouting inside. Two men are pleading not to be killed, and to their cries a stern "Shut up, and tell us!" snaps back. The voice is tough but not booming. The shouting sounds young, not deep enough to be that of an adult. Your patrol decides to enter the house through the front, the side window, and the back. When you break in, you find two men tied up in chairs. You also find two boys, holding guns up to the heads of the hostages. You yell at them to drop their weapons. But they don't. What do you do? If you don't shoot at the boys, the hostages will die. Or you will be shot at. If you fire on the boys, you will probably kill them. They are 13 years old.

This is the dilemma that American soldiers are having to face more and more on the battlefield. Whether it is in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, or Colombia, child soldiers have become an integral part of both insurgencies and government forces. Saddam Hussein's regime recruited child soldiers, an issue that American soldiers had to face when they invaded Iraq in 2003. Many of these young recruits had been trained in military-like boot camps.

Child Soldiers: Despair, Barbarization, and Conflict by John Sullivan.

Contemporary warfare is no longer the sole domain of adults and state forces. Children are increasingly involved in conflicts waged by nonstate actors: guerillas, terrorists, jihadi bands, gangs, criminals, and warlords. These groups utilizing child soldiers operate outside the norms of war and the rule of law, and have abandoned long-held prohibitions against terrorism, attacks on noncombatants, torture, reprisal, and slavery. These actors fight among themselves and against states for turf, profit, and plunder while accelerating the barbarization of warfare. This article examines the use of children in war and armed conflict. Specifically, it reviews the contemporary child-soldier issue and discusses child combatants in three settings: internal conflicts (civil wars and insurgencies), terrorism, and criminal gangs. Finally, it describes how children become child soldiers and looks at ways of responding to the problem.

Child Soldiers: Are US Military Members Prepared to Deal with the Threat? By Lieutenant Colonel Judith Hughes, USAF.

The growing volume of literature on the subject of child soldiers may be the first hint that the problem is getting worse instead of better. The problem is not unique to one particular country or region of the globe. Children may be active soldiers in combat in over 75 percent of the world's conflicts. The actual number of child soldiers is hard to quantify. Amnesty International cites research that estimates 300,000 child soldiers are exploited in over 30 countries but points out that efforts are under way to collect more reliable data on the actual number of children who are soldiering.3 Current Human Rights Watch Web sites also give the figure of 300,000 child soldiers, but it is interesting to note that literature published in the late 1990s also estimated the same number of children. The lack of change in these numbers may represent not a stagnant growth pattern but more likely the difficulty of getting accurate data.

The Law of Lost Innocence: International Law and the Modern Reality of Child Soldiers by Major Bryan Watson, USAF.

History does not note many instances in which children have served during wartime; in fact, the last four millennia of warfare have embraced a general norm against using children in war. Modern conflicts have distorted this standard, with some commentators pointing to a "drastic spike" in the practice over the last two decades and arguing that the last fifteen years have come to be known as the "era of the child soldier."

By most accounts, this increase is grounded in the complexity of the modern global order. One scholar points to (1) "social disruptions and failures of development caused by globalization, war, and disease" leading to "greater global conflict and instability" and "generational disconnections that create a new pool of potential recruits," (2) "technological improvements in small arms [that] now permit child recruits to be effective participants in warfare," and (3) "a rise in a new type of conflict that is far more brutal and criminalized." Together, these phenomena have caused tremendous numbers of children to become vulnerable to exploitation as a convenient labor pool for the world's battlefields.

Girl Child Soldiers: The Other Face of Sexual Exploitation and Gender Violence by Dr. Waltraud Morales.

A simple perusal of the hundreds of online resources on "child soldiers" will reveal that in the first decade of the twenty-first century, some of the worst abuse and exploitation is under way. Mankind has made extraordinary progress over the last 300 years in sensitivity and awareness as well as policy making and legislation against many of the most egregious violations of human rights, ranging from battery and torture to outright slavery. Both international humanitarian and international human-rights law have formally and explicitly recognized children's rights and extended special protections. Recently, more governments have acceded to the United Nations' Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Nevertheless, at this very moment, according to recent appeals by nongovernmental organizations (NGO) such World Vision, the International Rescue Commission, and the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, and major intergovernmental organizations (IGO), including the United Nations and specialized agencies such as United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), millions of children around the world not only are the victims of violent conflict and war but also have been forced to become child soldiers. The International Rescue Committee has described the systematic atrocities committed against the world's children as no less than a slow "genocide" or "holocaust" that has yet to grab the world's full attention and organized response.