Why recruit children?

Why do rebellion groups recruit children over adults? Some scholars tend to answer the question through the lenses of the rational choice theory1.

Rational Choice theory is commonly used as a framework of understanding and modeling social and economic behavior. It is widely used in sociology,  microeconomics, and political sciences. One of the main proponents of the theory is Gary Becker (1976)1. The central idea of the theory is an assumption that an individual in each particular case tends to make the most optimal decision. In case of the child soldiers, rational choice theory leads us to seek the answer to “why recruit children?” to the situations where children become the most optimal, beneficial, and cost-effective solution.

Child recruitment is indeed in many cases becomes the optimal decision  to make. First, children are easily indoctrinated and misled by armed groups, so leaders can use children at a low cost2. Also due to the high retention rate within the rebellion groups, children become the core of sustainability, as it is easier to force children to stay in the group, compared to the adults.  Furthermore, many scholars note that rebellion groups recruit children because they (leaders) do not face any punishment; or at least, are not aware of them.  In fact, policies around child soldiers were found to be inefficient as in many cases governments fail not only to protect the rights of the children, but also to prosecute the recruiters2,3.  Interestingly, according to UNESCO in some of the countries where governments tried to spread information about the possible punishment there were examples of rebel leaders demobilizing children4. Therefore, the ease of indoctrination, lower retention rate among children, compared to adults, and the absence of punishment for the recruiters in many cases make children to be the most optimal solution to make.

Following the rational choice theory, in order to stop child soldier phenomenon, it is vital to increase the cost of the recruitment. In other words, it is vital to create conditions where children would become the worse choice for the rebellion groups to make. Strengthening the policies around child soldiers; specifically, to reinforce the mechanisms of prosecution and follow up by increasing informational propaganda.  Also it is important to provide educational opportunities, and technical training for children in the hostilities to make them less vulnerable against the possible indoctrination, and recruitment. 

Why forced recruitment?

Why children do volunteer?

What makes children stay in the rebellion groups? 


1 Becker,  G.  (1976).  The Economic  Approach to Human  Behavior.  Chicago:  University  of  Chicago  Press

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

3 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.

4 EFA Global Monitoring Report (2011). UNESCO.


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