Child Terrorists and Child Soldiers
- Susanne MartinSusanne MartinDepartment of Political Science, University of Nevada, Reno
Children are often the most vulnerable victims of war. In some cases, they are also among the perpetrators of violence. Child soldiers and child terrorists are simultaneously victims and victimizers, in some ways symbolizing the depravity and desperation of modern warfare as it is practiced in many parts of the world. Children’s roles as combatants are even more concerning when the children are very young. How do children come to fill these positions? Why do children join armed groups, and why do armed groups seek to employ children?
In fact, children become militants for various reasons, most of which have little to do with “choice.” While some youths choose violence, many children’s options are limited by the contexts in which they live, their socialization or the conditioning they receive, and the cruel and coercive tactics used by armed groups, which include kidnapping and force. Armed groups employ children for their own benefit, and although children may appear weak and unskilled, they also offer unique strategic advantages to the groups employing them. Children are, by some estimates, easier to control, cheaper to employ, and easier to replace than their adult counterparts. The implications of childhood soldiering and children’s involvement in terrorism include ongoing warfare and conflict in places with weak or failed states, where societies are already struggling. The violence is particularly harsh on civilian populations, the primary targets of the violence of weak armed groups. Populations suffer displacement and poverty, and their children remain at risk of recruitment, lost lives, and lost futures.