What is the truth about child soldiers?


When a Child goes to War: Our myths are full of young heroes yet our media calls them tragic victims. What is the truth about child soldiers?

Malcolm Harris in Aeon
…In these stories, the children’s youth wasn’t a sign that their cause was corrupt or misguided. On the contrary, inspired children were a sign of favour from God – or history. The presence of child soldiers today immediately depoliticises the conflict and renders it a question of criminality, but child soldiers in old war stories raise the question of the future, which is to say now. History’s winners can take pleasure in past battles, they can place themselves in the shoes of precocious soldier-children because they know how the story ends: liberal capitalist democracy, the nation-state system, the UN. Now that we’ve grown out of child soldiering, we can look back on it fondly, as a testament to the foresight and bravery of our ancestors. Whatever they did, after all, got us here.

…For example, in 2009, UNICEF and Sri Lanka teamed up for a media campaign called ‘Bring Back the Child’ which aimed to discourage underage recruitment, specifically by the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In the posters, black-and-white photos of the child soldiers’ unsmiling faces are overlaid on full-colour photos of their bodies engaged in more age-appropriate pastimes. Beside the picture of a girl, the text reads: ‘She wants to be a dancer, not a child soldier.’ A boy wants to play cricket. The rhetoric assumes the child soldiers are abducted or coerced, but surveys of youth recruits to the LTTE suggest that this is relatively rare. In one survey, 18 of 19 teenage boys from the LTTE said they joined voluntarily.

But can a child truly volunteer to join an army?…

Read more here.