Children at risk of being recruited for armed conflict, 1990–2020

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Although armed conflicts and crises affect people of all ages, children are particularly susceptible to the effects of war. One significant consequence of armed conflict that is especially critical for children's well‐being, is when the belligerents use tactics specifically focused on harming children, including child soldier recruitment. Despite the increased attention of policy‐makers, we still lack systematic knowledge of how many children are directly and indirectly at risk of being recruited by state and non‐state actors. In overcoming this gap, we have collected data on the use of children by state and non‐state actors from 2010 onwards. Moreover, we estimate the number of children at risk of recruitment. The results of our mapping and estimation sketch a dark picture. According to our estimates, in 2020, approximately 337 million children (or 14%, or more than one in eight of all children globally) were living in a conflict zone with reported child soldier recruitment—that is less than 50 km from ongoing conflict, which involved at least one actor who has been reported to recruit children. We close the paper by taking stock of the current knowledge on the root causes of child soldiering, and we discuss some policy implications.

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Armed conflicts are a concern for human development and public health and represent a major impediment for realizing Sustainable Development Goal #3: to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Vaccination programs can be highly politicized and subjected to major security constraints in war zones, reducing their effectiveness. This article studies how armed conflict impacts immunization rates among children, combining two large datasets. We use health data for 15 conflict-affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including multiple Demographic and Health Survey rounds for most. We exploit the fact that age-appropriate vaccinations should take place in the child's first year of life and compare children aged one to five with varying degrees of (local) conflict exposure in their first year of life within the same countries and communities. We differentiate between the effects of local and country-level exposure to conflict on childhood immunization rates. The regression results show that conflict has a nonmonotonic effect on vaccination rates with minor (major) conflicts being associated with higher (lower) full immunization rates. We argue that in the case of minor conflicts, local-level health care access drives the results, whereas for major conflicts it is mainly national channels that drive the result.
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There is existing country-level evidence that countries with more severe armed conflict tend to have higher Maternal Mortality Rates (MMR). However, during armed conflict, the actual fighting is usually confined to a limited area within a country, affecting a subset of the population. Hence, studying the link between country-level armed conflict and MMR may involve ecological fallacies. We provide a more direct, nuanced test of whether local exposure to armed conflict impacts maternal mortality, building on the so-called "sisterhood method". We combine geo-coded data on different types of violent events from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program with geo-referenced survey data from the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) on respondents' reports on sisters dying during pregnancy, childbirth, or the puerperium. Our sample covers 1,335,161 adult sisters aged 12-45 by 539,764 female respondents in 30 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Rather than aggregating the deaths of sisters to generate a maternal mortality ratio, we analyze the sisters' deaths at the individual level. We use a sister fixed-effects analysis to estimate the impact of recent organized violence events within a radius of 50 km of the home of each respondent on the likelihood that her sister dies during pregnancy, childbirth, or the puerperium. Our results show that local exposure to armed conflict events indeed increases the risk of maternal deaths. Exploring potential moderators, we find larger differences in rural areas but also in richer and more educated areas.
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Children are currently being recruited to an increasing extent by armed groups, assuming both ancillary and combat roles. Academic research on this phenomenon has grown in scope over the last few years. However, the current research lacks a comparative perspective. As a result, we presently have a very restricted perspective of the state of the art on the subject of child soldiering, making it difficult to recognise research areas that urgently require further investigation. The ambition of this article is twofold: first, to explore the existing state of child soldier studies across disciplines, and second, to encourage potential research by highlighting three relatively underdeveloped research areas.
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The conditions under which a mother gives birth greatly affect the health risk of both the mother and the child. This article addresses how local exposure to organized violence affects whether women give birth in a health facility. We combine geocoded data on violent events from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program with georeferenced survey data on the use of maternal health care services from the Demographic and Health Surveys. Our sample covers 569,201 births by 390,574 mothers in 31 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We use a mother fixed-effects analysis to estimate the effect of recent organized violence events within a radius of 50 km of the home of each mother on the likelihood that her child is born in a health facility. The results indicate that geographical and temporal proximity to organized violence significantly reduces the likelihood of institutional births. Although the level of maternal health care overall is lower in rural areas, the negative effect of violence appears to be stronger in urban areas. The study further underscores the importance of household and individual resilience, indicating that the effect of organized violence on institutional child delivery is greater among poor and less-educated mothers. Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (10.1007/s13524-018-0685-4) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
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A major aim of our paper is to explore how the treatment and behavior of children may shed light on the recruitment and organizational patterns of military groups in general. Drawing primarily from the economics of child labor, but with considerable insight from child psychology and conflict studies, we ascertain the reasons why some violent groups would recruit children and others do not. In turn, by better understanding the "demand" for child soldiers, we are able to explain why there is such great variance in child-adult soldier ratios across organizations.
The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict remains a prevalent feature of modern civil war. But which conflict actors are more likely to recruit children? We argue that the process by which rebel groups form shapes their recruitment strategies. Specifically, we contend that rebels that form as splinter factions from the ranks of pre-existing rebel organizations are more likely to recruit child soldiers than other rebel groups. Splinter groups face unique constraints as they materialize in the midst of an active conflict environment, necessitating that they mobilize a sufficient force to contend with existing competitors. As a result, rebel factions are more likely to pursue recruitment strategies that are low cost vis-à-vis alternatives, focusing on their immediate survival. Under such conditions, children become especially attractive recruits. Leveraging the Foundations of Rebel Group Emergence Dataset, our cross-national investigation of 237 rebel groups active between 1989 and 2011 provides robust support for our hypothesis that splinter factions are strongly associated with the recruitment of children.
Women and children bear substantial morbidity and mortality as a result of armed conflicts. This Series paper focuses on the direct (due to violence) and indirect health effects of armed conflict on women and children (including adolescents) worldwide. We estimate that nearly 36 million children and 16 million women were displaced in 2017, on the basis of international databases of refugees and internally displaced populations. From geospatial analyses we estimate that the number of non-displaced women and children living dangerously close to armed conflict (within 50 km) increased from 185 million women and 250 million children in 2000, to 265 million women and 368 million children in 2017. Women's and children's mortality risk from non-violent causes increases substantially in response to nearby conflict, with more intense and more chronic conflicts leading to greater mortality increases. More than 10 million deaths in children younger than 5 years can be attributed to conflict between 1995 and 2015 globally. Women of reproductive ages living near high intensity conflicts have three times higher mortality than do women in peaceful settings. Current research provides fragmentary evidence about how armed conflict indirectly affects the survival chances of women and children through malnutrition, physical injuries, infectious diseases, poor mental health, and poor sexual and reproductive health, but major systematic evidence is sparse, hampering the design and implementation of essential interventions for mitigating the harms of armed conflicts.
What makes child recruitment into armed conflict more likely? Violations against children in armed conflict pose a significant challenge to conflict resolution, long-term peacebuilding efforts, and international stability, yet little data are available on a global scale to understand the scope and causes of child recruitment into conflict. This article makes two contributions towards closing this analytical gap. First, utilising annual reports of the United Nations Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, this article codes child recruitment and other grave violations against children for 28 countries from 2006 to 2015 producing a new data set. Second, using this data set, this article examines the broad role of displacement in shaping child recruitment into armed conflict. Ultimately, this article finds that displacement within a country is positively and statistically significantly correlated with violations against children in armed conflict to include child recruitment and introduces policy recommendations for engaging this finding.
Why do some rebel groups forcibly recruit children while others largely refrain from using this strategy? We argue that it depends, in part, on their ability to profit from natural resources. Rebel groups that earn funding from natural resources have less incentive to restrain abusive behavior such as the forced recruitment of children and more incentive to tolerate and even promote this recruitment strategy. To test our expectations, we collected new data on the level of forcible recruitment of children by rebel groups. This is distinct from the broader use of child soldiers, a significant portion of whom volunteer to join armed groups. We combined the information on forced recruitment with a recent data set on rebel groups’ exploitation of natural resources. Our analyses show that rebel groups that profit from natural resources are significantly more likely to forcibly recruit children than groups that do not exploit natural resources. Looking at specific characteristics, rebels that extract lootable resources are more likely to engage in the forced recruitment of children than groups that profit only from non-lootable resources or from no natural resources at all. The findings have important implications for our understanding of the relationship between rebels’ revenue streams and their engagement in human rights violations.
Most existing work assumes that child soldiers are under-aged males. Girl soldiers have largely been neglected so far, although they frequently have important roles in rebel groups. One reason for this shortcoming has been the lack of comprehensive and systematic data on female child soldiers over a larger time period. To address this gap, the following article introduces the Girl Child Soldier Dataset (G-CSDS), which provides – based on academic, IGO, NGO, government, and media sources – information on the number of girl soldiers and their functions (supporters or combatants) in rebel groups between 1989 and 2013. The dataset can be easily combined with other data based on the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP), and we demonstrate its usefulness with descriptive statistics and a regression analysis that is informed by previous research on women’s participation in armed groups. Among other interesting findings, the corresponding results suggest that there are crucial differences between girl combatants and those active in more supportive roles. We conclude that the G-CSDS provides a central platform of easily accessible information that will be useful to scholars and practitioners working on civil conflict, human rights, armed groups, or demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) programs.
Practitioners and researchers have thoroughly examined an ample set of push factors that cause minors to join nonstate armed organizations in Colombia, ranging from poverty to the provision of weapons. Pull factors and the interaction between push and pull, however, also play a crucial role. Copyright
Current global estimates of children engaged in warfare range from 200,000 to 300,000. Children's roles in conflict range from armed and active participants to spies, cooks, messengers, and sex slaves.This volume examines the factors that contribute to the use of children in war, the effects of war upon children, and the perpetual cycle of warfare that engulfs many of the world's poorest nations.The contributors seek to eliminate myths of historic or culture-based violence, and instead look to common traits of chronic poverty and vulnerable populations. Individual essays examine topics such as: the legal and ethical aspects of child soldiering; internal UN debates over enforcement of child protection policies; economic factors; increased access to small arms; displaced populations; resource endowments; forced government conscription; rebel-enforced quota systems; motivational techniques employed in recruiting children; and the role of girls in conflict.The contributors also offer viable policies to reduce the recruitment of child soldiers such as the protection of refugee camps by outside forces, "naming and shaming," and criminal prosecution by international tribunals. Finally, they focus on ways to reintegrate former child soldiers into civil society in the aftermath of war. Copyright
The existent work on child soldiering began only recently to systematically study its consequences, both theoretically and empirically. The following article seeks to contribute to this by examining the impact of rebels’ child soldier recruitment practices during war on the risk of armed conflict recurrence in post-conflict societies. We argue that child soldiering in a previous dispute may increase both the willingness and opportunity to resume fighting in the post-conflict period, while disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes could decrease these aspects of conflict recurrence. Empirically, we analyse time-series cross-section data on post-conflict country-years between 1989 and 2005. The findings highlight that the risk of conflict recurrence does, indeed, increase with child soldiers who fought in an earlier dispute, but — counter-intuitively — is unlikely to be affected by the presence of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes in post-conflict societies. This research has important implications for the study of armed conflicts, child soldiering and research on post-conflict stability.
Several rebel groups actively recruit children to serve among their ranks. While this constitutes one of the most egregious violations of children’s rights, it remains unclear what impact recruited children have on the fighting capacities of these armed groups. The existing research suggests that, on the one hand, armed groups drafting children might also be militarily effective, since it is cheaper to provide for children, they are more obedient and aggressive than adults, and easily manipulable. On the other hand, children may negatively affect rebel groups’ fighting capacities as they are less proficient combatants than adults and often difficult to control. We add to this debate by systematically analyzing the quantitative evidence on the impact of child soldiers on rebel groups’ fighting capacities. Based on the analysis of newly compiled data on child recruitment by rebel groups between 1989 and 2010, our analyses show that children may actually increase rebel groups’ fighting capacities. That said, rebels’ ability to procure arms and the access to resources seem to be more important determinants of fighting capacity. The authors discuss these findings in light of policy implications and avenues for future research.
Child soldiers remain a stark reminder of the suffering caused by civil wars. This paper explores the long-term calculations that rebel leaders employ when deciding whether or not to use child soldiers. A norm against the use of child soldiers has been strongly stated by the international community. Given their need to attract international support to achieve their goal of state recognition, we argue that separatist rebellions are unlikely to use child soldiers because they are constrained by these norms. We test our expectation on a newly collected dataset of child soldier use from 1998 to 2008. Our analyses find considerable support that separatists are more likely to follow accepted norms and refrain from using underage troops. Consistent with previous work, we also find that child soldier use increases as the duration of the war increases, when there is a vulnerable supply of internally displaced people, as youth unemployment increases, and when rebel groups rely on illicit funds.
The International Labour Office welcomes such applications. The designations employed in ILO publications, which are in conformity with UN practice, and the presentation of material therein do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the International Labour Office concerning the legal status of any country, area, or territo-ry or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers. The responsibility for opinions expressed in studies and other contributions rests solely with their authors, and publication does not constitute an endorsement of those opinions by the International Labour Office. Reference to names of firms and commercial products and processes does not imply their endorsement by the International Labour Office, and any failure to mention a particular firm, com-mercial product, or process is not a sign of disapproval.
Why do armed groups recruit large numbers of children as fighters, often coercively? The international community has tried to curb these crimes by shaming and punishing leaders who commit them—in short, making the crimes costlier. Are these policies effective and sufficient? The answer lies in more attention to the strategic interaction between rebel leaders and recruits. We adapt theories of industrial organization to rebellious groups and show how, being less able fighters, children are attractive recruits if and only if they are easier to intimidate, indoctrinate, and misinform than adults. This ease of manipulation interacts with the costliness of war crimes to influence rebel leaders' incentives to coerce children into war. We use a case study and a novel survey of former child recruits in Uganda to illustrate this argument and provide hard evidence not only that children are more easily manipulated in war, but also how—something often asserted but never demonstrated. Our theory, as well as a new “cross-rebel” data set, also support the idea that costliness matters: foreign governments, international organizations, diasporas, and local populations can discourage child recruitment by withholding resources or punishing offenders (or, conversely, encourage these crimes by failing to act). But punishing war crimes has limitations, and can only take us so far. Children's reintegration opportunities must be at least as great as adults' (something that demobilization programs sometimes fail to do). Also, indoctrination and misinformation can be directly influenced. We observe grassroots innovations in Uganda that could be models for the prevention and curbing of child soldiering and counterinsurgency generally.
This article presents the UCDP Georeferenced Event Dataset (UCDP GED). The UCDP GED is an event dataset that disaggregates three types of organized violence (state-based conflict, non-state conflict, and one-sided violence) both spatially and temporally. Each event – defined as an instance of organized violence with at least one fatality – comes with date, geographical location, and identifiers that allow the dataset to be linked to and merged with other UCDP datasets. The first version of the dataset covers events of fatal violence on the African continent between 1989 and 2010. This article, firstly, introduces the rationale for the new dataset, and explains the basic coding procedures as well as the quality controls. Secondly, we discuss some of the data’s potential weaknesses in representing the universe of organized violence, as well as some potential biases induced by the operationalizations. Thirdly, we provide an example of how the data can be used, by illustrating the association between cities and organized violence, taking population density into account. The UCDP GED is a useful resource for conflict analyses below the state and country-year levels, and can provide us with new insights into the geographical determinants and temporal sequencing of warfare and violence.
About the Ford Institute for Human Security The mission of the Ford Institute for Human Security is to conduct research that focuses on a series of transnational threats to the human rights of civilian populations. The Institute's purpose is to generate independent research, disseminate policy papers, and advocate nonpartisan policy proposals available to both domestic and international policymakers. In today's increasingly globalized world, there has been a shift from traditional threats focused on the territorial integrity of nations to global threats that center on the safety of individuals. The Ford Institute for Human Security at the University of Pittsburgh recognizes the critical importance of these emergent problems in human security. This working paper is a product of the Ford Institute's working group, "Child Soldiers Initative: Building Knowledge about Children and Armed Conflict". The Child Soldiers Initiative is an ongoing network of scholars, policymakers and representatives of civil society engaged in promoting and developing policy proposals addressing the recruitment and reintegration of child soldiers.
The global number of child soldiers has grown significantly in the last two decades despite a series of protocols designed to curb this trend. They are generally employed in wars where belligerents spend more time attacking civilian populations than fighting professional armies. Used by both governments and rebel groups, child soldiers epitomize many of the problems associated with states at risk: intergenerational violence, poverty, and the failure of efforts to instill the rule of war. Both scholars in security studies and policymakers have largely regarded child soldier recruitment as a humanitarian issue. But recent events have linked child soldiering to insurgency and terrorism, suggesting that this issue is also developing a security dimension. This article examines contrasting arguments about the causes of child soldiering. Using data drawn from nineteen African conflicts, the authors argue that the major explanation for the significant variation in the percentage of child soldiers recruited is the degree of protection against abduction provided by governments and external actors to camps housing internally displaced persons and refugees.
Responding to concerns expressed by adults living in war zones and in postconflict societies, this article explores the evidence concerning whether children's moral de-velopment is seriously disrupted by their participation in armed conflict. It begins by defining some of the key issues in the debate and discussing how the child development and war literatures frame these issues. It emphasizes that there is a shortage of systematic empirical research in this area, and makes a case for further enquiry into the contextual influences in children's moral learning and for a particular focus on the specific environmental challenges associated with involvement in combat. The article concludes by questioning the view of young former combatants as moral reprobates, and arguing the need for a reconceptualization of both childhood and child development.
Why do governments and rebel groups employ child soldiers in some internal armed conflicts but not in others? While previous studies have examined aspects of the causes and consequences of child soldier usage, to date there has never been a comprehensive empirical analysis that has examined their worldwide usage. In this study, we develop a theory that explains the use of child soldiers as a tactical military innovation that rebel groups have greater incentives and abilities to adopt as compared to governments. As we argue, however, governments’ incentives and ability to adopt child soldiers increase dramatically if rebels adopt the tactic. According to our theory, the decision to adopt child soldiers by governments and rebel groups will be primarily driven by tactical considerations rather than the socio-demographic factors typically highlighted in the literature. To test our theory, we collected global data on the usage of child soldiers by governments and rebel groups in 109 internal armed conflicts from 1987-2007. This new data shows that governments and rebels employed child soldiers in 45% of the internal armed conflicts that took place during this period, whereas governments were the only party to employ them in 10% of the cases and rebels were the only part to do so in 26% of the cases. Our analysis of these cases using binomial and multinomial estimation techniques reveal strong support for our tactically-driven explanation of child soldier usage, especially compared to the rival socio-demographic account. Our findings have salient implications for how this problem should be understood and the policy measures that may be effective in diminishing its occurrence.
Young people have been at the forefront of political conflict in many parts of the world, even when it has turned violent. In some of those situations, for a variety of reasons, including coercion, poverty, or the seductive nature of violence, children become killers before they are able to grasp the fundamentals of morality. It has been only in the past ten years that this component of warfare has captured the attention of the world. Images of boys carrying guns and ammunition are now commonplace as they flash across television screens and appear on the front pages of newspapers. Less often, but equally disturbingly, stories of girls pressed into the service of militias surface in the media. A major concern today is how to reverse the damage done to the thousands of children who have become not only victims but also agents of wartime atrocities. In Child Soldiers in Africa, Alcinda Honwana draws on her firsthand experience with children of Angola and Mozambique, as well as her study of the phenomenon for the United Nations and the Social Science Research Council, to shed light on how children are recruited, what they encounter, and how they come to terms with what they have done. Honwana looks at the role of local communities in healing and rebuilding the lives of these children. She also examines the efforts undertaken by international organizations to support these wartime casualties and enlightens the reader on the obstacles faced by such organizations.
La plupart des guerres impliquent majoritairement des jeunes. Les guerres civiles africaines de ces vingt dernières annees ont vu l'âge des combattants diminuer progressivement. Certaines armées sont composées en grande partie d'adolescents; les combattants n'ont parfois que huit ou dix ans, et la participation des filles au combat s'accroît. La tendance marquée par l'âge décroissant des combattants reflète aussi la prise de conscience que les enfants, dont la base de soutien social a été perturbée par la guerre, se révèlent être des combattants courageux et loyaux. Les compagnons d'armes se substituent à la famille. La réaction des adultes est double. La première consiste á stigmatiser les jeunes combattants en les diabolisant (en les qualifiant de “bandits” et de “vermine”). L'autre réaction, régulièrement adoptée par les organismes de protection de l'enfance, est de considérer les jeunes combattants comme des victimes ou des outils aux mains de régimes militaires antidémocratiques ou de “seigneurs de guerre” brutaux et sans scrupules. De nombreux combattants mineurs choisissent cependant de combattre en pleine connaissance de cause et défendent leur choix, parfois avec fierté. Sur fond de families détruites et de systèmes d'éducation défaillants, l'activisme milicien offre aux jeunes une chance de se faire un chemin dans la vie. Cet article vise à donner la parole aux jeunes combattants. II s'appuie principalement sur des entretiens menés à Freetown en 1996 avec d'anciens combattants mineurs en cours de réadaptation (dans deux différents programmes), ainsi que des entretiens recueillis à l'intérieur du pays auprès de consents du RUF/SL qui se sont eux-mêmes démobilisé récemment. Le soin est laissé au lecteur de décider si ces jeunes sont les dupes et les démons que l'on suppose parfois.
Poster for lecture titled "Children at War" by Peter W. Singer, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Peter Singer is author of the book "Children at War and Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry".
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