Why forced recruitment?

Studies show that forced recruitment goes hand in hand with child recruitment, “All groups that forcibly recruit also employ child soldiers, on average two to three times as many as groups that do not forcibly recruit1. So, why do rebellion groups choose forced recruitment, and why is the force often directed towards the children?

Possible explanations are presented in the theory of the economics of labor coercion  proposed by Acemoglu & Wolitzky  (2010)2. The authors based their theory on a coercive principal agent model, with two significant differences, first, they suggested that the agent (child, in our case) has no wealth, and the principal (rebellion leader) can punish as well as reward the agent/child. Second feature is that the principal (rebellion leader) can choose the amount of coercion. One of the central ideas of their model is that the principal uses force to minimize outside options of an agent (child), and force a child to accept the terms of “employment” that the child might otherwise reject2.  Their model provides some important insights into the coercive labor relationship:

1. Coercive labor allows to minimize the cost for the principal. In other words it allows to pay less incentives for the children. This assumption seems relevant to our case, as the rebellion groups usually have limited resources, and thus they cannot allow to reward agents, or provide frequent incentives to them.

2.  Coercive labor increases agent’s efforts and productivity. This also seems to be true, as in case of Sri Lanka children were regularly threatened by leaders in order to make children follow their commands3.  Therefore, as one might predict children would put extra efforts to fulfill the command to avoid possible punishment and threats.  

3. Coercion is used as a means to hold the agents within the organization/institution/group. As proposed by Acemoglu & Wolitzky2 the principal might use actual guns as a threat against the children (in our case), or their relatives, and friends in order to keep the agent within the group. This proposition is also supported by the literature that shows that children in the case of Uganda, were regularly threaten by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA) with the promise to kill the members of their family, or friends in case of escape1.

4. Coercion is more likely to occur when the outside options of the agent is low. This statement is also supported by several research that shows that children who were recruited were from the poor families, with limited or no outside options for employment, or education3,4,5. The research also indicated that children were in most of the cases unaware of their opportunities, unlike the adults. This fact made children more vulnerable against the recruitment. 

Even though the theory of the economics of labor coercion provides  valuable insights into the forced recruitment/ coercive labor relationship that seem very relevant to our case, it does not address the question of why the forced recruitment is usually addressed towards the children.

Nevertheless, on the base of this theory one important recommendation could be made; increase outside options for children such as to expand educational, and employment opportunities.

Why recruit children?

Why children do volunteer?

What makes children stay in the rebellion groups? 


Beber, B.& Blattman, Ch. (2010). The Logic of Child Soldiering and Coercion. Unpublished working paper, Yale University

Acemoglu, D., & Wolitzky, A. (2009). The economics of labor coercion. Rochester, Rochester: doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1520143

de Silva, H., Hobbs, C. & Hanks, H. (2001). Conscription of children in armed conflict—a form of child abuse: a study of 19 former child soldiers. Child Abuse Review 10, 125–134

Massey, Ch. M. (2000). Child soldiers: theory and reality of their existence: the question of international protection available to them in contemporary times. PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

Tynes, R. M. (2011). Child soldiers, armed conflicts, and tactical innovations. State University of New York at Albany). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 344.


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