Why do they get Child Soldiers?

According to Chris Blattman, it’s because child soldiers, when coerced, are most likely to be indoctrinated and least likely to escape. It’s a low-cost win-win bet for a rebel organization. This insight comes from a survey of data from a number of African rebel groups which by Chris Blattman, who’s an assistant professor of political science and economics at Yale.

Among other things, Blattman recommends a fundamental re-think of how governments approach the problem of child soldiers. Some of the initial conclusions of the working paper co-authored by Blattman and Berned Baber is as follows:

  • anti-insurgency measures (eg increasing military spending by the government) may increase child soldiering (because it increases the size of army needed by a rebel commander)
  • measures to reduce child labour may increase child soldiering (because it reduces alternative options for children)
  • increased educational and economic opportunities for children will only reduce child soldiering if those opportunities increase faster for children than for adults
  • a good strategy to reduce child soldiering would include “abduction training” – teaching children how to resist indoctrination and to escape if captured (rather as Japanese children learn to deal with earthquakes)

That last recommendation might be of relevance to NGOs working in the field, just like students in Colombo are given “bomb training”, children in the eastern province and northern province perhaps should be given abduction training.

The draft paper is here(pdf), do see the initial blog post by Chris Blattman, who’s a pioneer in the field of conflict economics.  I am thankful to Owen Barder for putting up the summary conclusions.

— Deane.


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