Book Cover

Sociological exploration of the
role of child soldiers in nonstate military operations.

The use of children in combat was
once fairly uncommon, but groups such as the Islamic State and the Tamil Tigers
have been systematic in putting young people in the field. In some cases, write
Bloom (Communication/Georgia State Univ.; Bombshell:
Women and Terrorism
, 2011, etc.) and Horgan (Global Studies/Georgia State
Univ.; The Psychology of Terrorism,
2014, etc.), the children are forced or coerced to bear arms, while in others,
their parents sign them up, whether because they are believers in the cause or
because, in the case of IS in places like Syria and Iraq, they receive a
stipend for it. Sometimes the children are even willing participants. One 13-year-old
Iranian boy who became the first suicide bomber to die in 1980 was hailed as a
hero, and “his death was likened to the martyrdom of the Prophet Muhammed’s
grandson Hussein (killed at Karbala) and was celebrated by the Ayatollah Khomeini.”
Drawing on a wide body of case studies, the authors examine the many ways child
soldiers are drawn into their roles—which, in the end, usually turn out to be
as cannon fodder. “Child soldiers…are not recruited for the future, but for the
present,” they write. “Most die in battle and only a handful ever progress
through the ranks to become adult leaders.” In action, too, child soldiers tend
to be deadly, making up in savagery what they lack in experience. Can a child,
once impressed into the military, ever escape? It happens, write the authors, as
sometimes they are thrown out for incompetence, and others run away: “The
reality is that most terrorist groups do permit disengagement, to a
degree.” Even so, they note, accounts by such disengaged children are
rare. Bloom and Horgan close with white-paper recommendations for policymakers
on how to deal with child soldiers—e.g., “Engage the families and communities
of child returnees to better facilitate their reintegration.”

Of interest to military planners as
well as workers in the humanitarian aid/NGO sphere.

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