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?

Women in Conflict

In ancient times – also referred to as undergrad – I had a project in my final semester that motivated me to live on Red Bull and work 36 hours at a stretch. I loved what I was doing. I was crazy enough to believe there was enough information available to tackle it.

I was looking into the relationship between women and civil wars.

The problem? I had one month to complete the project, and the data just didn’t exist. There were a few scholars working on the problem – some of whom had flaws in their study structure or math.  Mary Caprioli covered the topic in the early 2000s, but left many questions unanswered. And there was a gaping hole in the realm of data.

At some point, I want to pick that project up again, dust it off, and finish it. Much of the existing literature focuses on the impact of women in the peacebuilding process, with a specific lens on African conflicts (see Gizelis, 2011 for a good example). Other researchers focus on women as victims.

Luckily, a new trend is gaining traction. The importance of women as actors, not victims or peacebuilders, is growing. Case studies are emerging with intriguing results. Mohamed, 2013, Oriola, 2012, and Meth, 2010 are examples of this new initiative.

Part of me hopes that with the development of case studies, data collection will be easier in the next decade, and research on women’s role in civil wars will increase. If women are recognized as having a potential to affect peacekeeping and peacemaking processes as many scholars argue (Hendricks and Chivasa, 2008, for example), the same should be expected for conflict processes.

If you are working on this relationship, know of any quality resources, or just have an opinion to voice, please share below!