Children at War

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:,%20Demobilization,%20and%20Reintegration%20of%20Child%20Soldiers.pdf

You can tell that I’m passionate about this topic, right?

On Foreign Aid, Donors, and State Interests…

The relationship of donations, state to state aid, and private aid on state stability is a fascinating topic with lots of room for research, although Savun and Tirone published an excellent piece on the topic in 2010.

Here’s a take from one of Zimbabwe’s leaders, and some of the commentary it produced:

What do you think? Is philanthropy a means of state control? Of provoking instability? If so, what do foreign aid receipts say about state-state relationships? And how does the political landscape of a state change based on the donations received?

Another interesting knot to look at it in this area is the problem of gender-biased aid. In Haiti, some aid-dependent communities experience the phenomenon of floating males. The aid goes to women, and the men follow the aid. The social relationships of dating and marriage have been altered to a staggering degree in some areas.

So is aid really aid? Let’s hear your opinion on it. Comment below.

Civil Wars, Reconstruciton, and Reconciliation

On February 5th, the New York Times ran a piece by Thabo Mbeki on the closure of civil wars, and the role of courts in the reconstruction period. Mbeki was President of South Africa from 1998-2008, and witnessed the nation’s difficult recovery from Apartheid. In the closing paragraph of the article, Mbeki states:

“The United States also had a civil war. Its fault lines were already visible nearly a century before, at independence. Americans would do well to remember that the country’s political leadership was wise enough to rule out court trials for the defeated at the end of the Civil War and instead opt for Reconstruction.”

Mbeki’s sentiment is laudable, but flawed. Although I hate to jump into historical civil wars, there are a few reasons to do so in this case:

1) Civil wars have changed drastically in terms of actors, motivation, resources, size, and several other notable factors since the start of the Cold War, let alone the time of the American Civil War. The comparison is anachronistic.

2) Reconstruction in the United States was not a smooth journey of reconciliation – it was a bitter journey that included the Military Reconstruction Act of 1867, which divided the defeated South into 5 militarily-ruled territories. These territories were ruled by martial law, with troops actively in place. Johnson’s impeachment was actually tied to the reconstruction process, a result of displeasure among the Radical Republicans.

3) Henry Wirz, a confederate soldier of Swiss origin was executed as a result of his management of Camp Sumter during the war. His trial and execution took place after the war ended, and was for war crimes. He is the most famous case of an execution and trial following the war, but not the only one. Robert Cobb Kennedy and Champ Ferguson were also executed following the war for their involvement as confederate leaders.

The divisions between the North and South are still visible in many modern political debates. They definitely are not a guide post for Reconstruction in post civil war states.

South Africa’s post civil war reconciliation movement had its roots in restorative justice, an idea that definitely warrants study, and shows promising results in the settings where it has been implemented. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee had its flaws, but was one of the first (if not the first) initiatives of its kind. To compare it to the American post civil war reconstruction cheapens its actual impact on post-conflict reconstruction.

The role of courts, as Mbeki suggests, isn’t necessarily conflict resolution. The idea of restorative justice and reconciliatory movements can have a notable and worthwhile impact, however. If courts are encouraged to push for restorative justice in post-conflict scenarios, they may be able to play an important role. What doesn’t belong in the post-civil war setting is the traditional incarceration-based justice system used in many modern states.

Why not incarcerate individuals for their involvement in civil wars? There are many reasons, but the most pressing of all is the lack of resolution and closure provided to either party when incarceration or execution is used. On the contrary, results with reconciliation and restorative justice practices are promising. See the discussion of Mogamba spirits on the post civil war period in Mozambique for more on this dynamic, particularly those found in the book Traditional Justice and Reconciliation after Violent Conflict: Learning From African Experiences.

For more on restorative justice and its role in post-insurgency and post civil war environments, see the following resources:

Jus Post Bellum and Transitional Justice (2013) May and Edenberg

The Guilt of Nations: Restitution and Negotiating Historical Injustices (2000) Barkan

Burying the Past: Making Peace and Doing Justice After Civil Conflict (2003) Biggar

Justice and Reconciliation in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2009) du Bois and du Bois-Pedain