Ethics, Revised Edition
Definition: Children under the age of eighteen recruited or conscripted into military and armed groups
Type of Ethics: Military ethics
Significance: Using children as soldiers cruelly exploits the children, distorts the nature of the combat in which they serve, and creates a class of citizens who may threaten the long-term stability of their societies.
In 2003, an estimated 500,000 children under eighteen years of age served in the government armed forces, paramilitary forces, civil militia, and armed groups of more than eighty-five nations, and another 300,000 children were active in armed combat in more than thirty countries. Some of the children were as young as seven years of age.
Many child soldiers are volunteers seeking to avenge harm done to family members, seeking refuge from social and economic desperation, or seeking parental surrogates or group membership. Others are conscripts captured, kidnapped, drafted, or otherwise forced or threatened into service. Many are abandoned or orphaned children found wandering the countryside.
Child soldiers are prized because their youth and physical vulnerability makes them obedient and easily intimidated into undertaking dangerous and undesirable tasks and providing personal services for adult soldiers. A many child soldiers are incompletely socialized, lack moral foundations, and lack full understandings of pain and death, they are often more willing than adults to commit atrocities and acts of terror. They are also generally more willing to undertake dangerous missions as spies, lookouts, messengers, suicide fighters, and human mine detectors. Drugs, threats, and brainwashing are used to overcome any fear or reluctance to fight. Developmental learning theory suggests that, until about the age of fifteen, children cannot critically evaluate the merits of the causes for which they fight.
Child soldiers are denied their childhood and appropriate socialization and enculturation. They often suffer trauma and psychological damage from exposure to danger, violence, and carnage. Most never receive education or training beyond that required for combat. Many are physically maimed, permanently handicapped, and become addicted to drugs. Most are social outcasts once armed conflict ends, either because of their actions and injuries in combat or because of society's rejection of the sexual exploitation most, especially female child soldiers, experience within their armed units. This underclass enters adulthood with little prospect for employment, marriage, or acceptance by society. They become constant threats to social and political stability within their countries.
The 1949 Geneva Convention and 1977 Additional Protocols, 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and 1998 International Criminal Court set fifteen as the minimum age for soldiers. An Optional Protocol to the CRC, adopted by the United Nations in the year 2000, raised the age to eighteen. Child soldiers remain in spite of these efforts.
Gordon Neal DiemBibliography
Amnesty International. Child Soldiers: One of the Worst Abuses of Child Labor. London: Author, 1999.
Brett, Rachel, and Margaret McCallin. The Invisible Soldiers. Stockholm: Raedda Barnen, 1998.
Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers. Global Report. London: Author, 2001.
Goodwin-Gill, Guy, and Ilene Cohn. Child Soldiers: The Role of Children in Armed Conflicts. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1994.
Child abuse; Child labor legislation; Children's rights; Land mines; Limited war; Mercenary soldiers; Military ethics; U.N. Declaration on the Rights of the Child; War; War crimes trials.
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