Living with a toddler, I’m inclined to think that my house resembles a war zone most of the time. And then I remember work. Child soldiers were the hot topic of the mid-late 1990s and the early 2000s. Books on their experiences, autobiographies, biographies, movies, and pop culture brought the phenomenon of child soldiering to the forefront of public interest.
There’s just one problem.
When examining the role of child soldiers in conflict, data is scarce. Most research has centered on the psychological, social, and political ramifications of child soldier use during conflict. Another clump of research looks at how and why children were recruited or forced into service during civil wars.
We’re on the verge of the 20 year anniversary of Rwanda’s civil war. The conflict left a damaging impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. As do all civil wars. Rwanda was also one of the first conflicts to call attention to the role of child soldiers in conflict.
I’ve yet to hear of a single paper that covers child soldiers as a variable on duration of a conflict, despite numerous reports of child recruitment and participation in political violence. For that matter, I’ve yet to read a paper that treats children as a variable in civil war. The data is scarce, which is one part of the problem, but a larger question is looming.
Are we failing to research children as a variable in civil war because the idea is disconcerting? Is it easier to ignore the concept of child soldiers as being relevant to a conflict’s duration or outcome?
The reality of child soldiering isn’t decreasing. In fact, we’ve seen child soldiers in conflict of all sizes for hundreds of years, but their use in civil war has increased in the past few decades. From abducted children being forced into slave-like conditions in insurgent camps to kindergarteners being trained as future suicide bombers, the role of the child in warfare and terrorism is unmistakeably important.
The effects on the children themselves, on their society, and on the creation of a lasting peace and the cessation of conflict are all variables worth evaluating. Just as the questions surrounding women in conflict is difficult to address due to the lack of reliable data, the same can be said of children in conflict.
Does anyone know of a dataset with reliable information on special actors in civil conflict and political violence? If so, share the wealth. Comment below.
If not, isn’t it time to start one?
For more information on children in conflict, see the following resources:
You can tell that I’m passionate about this topic, right?