Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States

  • Published

Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States edited by Scott Gates and Simon Reich. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010, 352 pp.

This book of essays, edited by Scott Gates, director of the Centre for the Study of Civil War, International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, and Simon Reich, director of the Division of Global Affairs at Rutgers University, describes research on the causes and conditions that allow the use of children in armed conflict. The book is the product of two workshops: one held at the International Peace Research Institute and the other at the University of Pittsburgh.

Very few books discuss the “real” reasons for children’s involvement in warfare. A number of studies have appeared in the literature over the past several decades, but Child Soldiers is one of the first volumes dedicated to the diversity of this subject. Two events in relatively modern history characterize the historical aspects of this practice: (1) the participation of 247 Virginia Military Institute cadets in the Battle of New Market as part of the Confederate army and (2) the involvement of the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) in the closing weeks of World War II. These two examples appear in the context of the fact that “throughout the last four thousand years . . . children were never an integral, essential part of any military forces in history” (p. 93). However, the rules have changed, and participation of children in warfare is a growing trend.

Throughout the chapters, the contributors offer a number of reasons why nation-states and rebel groups use children in conflicts. Both qualitative and quantitative research studies provide insights into the conditions that motivate forces (governmental or rebel) to recruit child soldiers. This volume provides a cross section of research on a number of different conflicts in different and relevant situations, including chapters by P. W. Singer and Michael G. Wessells, who have published books on the subject. All of the authors, subject-matter experts committed to educating the world on child soldiers, handle this sensitive topic with care and clarity.

In the future, the use of children in warfare seems quite inevitable, reflected in several essays that disprove myths about this phenomenon. For example, using child soldiers is neither an “African thing” nor typical of instances of genocide that have occurred in recent history. Another myth—that girls do not serve as child soldiers—is refuted by reports that girls are recruited more heavily than their male counterparts for certain combat tasks. Furthermore, the editors’ statement that “there are some 300,000 child soldiers in the world today, and that this figure has been relatively constant for many years” (p. 251) belies the prevalent notion that the use of children in warfare is minimal in scope.

The editors do offer some plausible recommendations for reducing the use of child soldiers. Foremost among these is initiating security measures at camps for internally displaced persons, where most recruitment of children takes place. Another suggestion involves educating the populace on the subject prior to a conflict. The editors also propose enhancing the authority of international entities such as the International Criminal Court and assuring that US foreign policy prohibits the use of children in warfare, mirroring US efforts to prevent and combat human trafficking worldwide.

The common practice of using children as combatants will not cease in the twenty-first century and will continue to be tied to human security. Failure to acknowledge this relationship assures that the impact on intergenerational violence, criminality, and terrorism will become endemic in the future of some states. This book fairly and adequately describes the conditions that could perpetuate this situation.

Two concerns about the book come to mind. First, some chapters have an overabundance of graphics—so many that the reader may get lost reviewing the copious number of figures. Second, even though the contributors discuss the causes of problems, they do not address end states or convictions of leaders responsible for using child soldiers. Granted, some conflicts are ongoing, but for those that have concluded, it would be interesting to know about the outcome of any judicial actions taken against the perpetrators of this practice.

Nevertheless, readers who wish to understand the complexities and conditions that promote the use of children in armed conflict around the world will find this text useful. Moreover, planners and policy makers associated with various nation-states as well as the United Nations should read it to better understand conflicts in which children prosecute clashes between government and rebel groups. I highly recommend Child Soldiers as a reference on the complexities of future conflict and as an excellent starting point for personal research.

O. Shawn Cupp, PhD

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."