The Child Soldier Dilemma

  • Julie McBrideEmail author


This chapter introduces and outlines the background to the child soldier issue, and briefly examines the history of the use of child soldiers, before analysing the factors that contribute to the widespread use of children in conflict. Culture is a key factor, and the highly contentious issue of cultural relativism in international criminal justice will be addressed. Does the legal framework that addresses the issue of child soldiers bear the hallmarks of culturally sensitive criteria? It is critical to assess what position the issue of differing cultures and societies should play in determining what constitutes ‘childhood’ and who is a ‘child’ soldier on the international platform. The substantive legal framework from which the crime of child recruitment ‘evolved’ is then examined. There have been contributions to this framework from humanitarian law, human rights law and the International Labour Organisation, and a significant number of treaties and conventions include prohibitions on using children in conflict. Issues that arise in this analysis include the political motivations at play during the drafting of the instruments, how they are reflected in the final texts and the input of the ‘straight-18’ movement, which advocates for eighteen to be instated as the minimum age of recruitment. However, these instruments have had limited success and there appears to have been a growing trend towards criminalisation as a means to ensure compliance, representing a new ‘era of application’. The effectiveness of international instruments is discussed, as is the specific problem of their application to non-state parties. Perhaps international legal instruments have achieved all they can in bringing about an expectation of compliance with their principles, and this expectation can only be fully realised through international criminal justice? It is argued that the movement towards eradicating the use of child soldiers has undergone such a shift in approach.


United Nations Armed Conflict International Criminal Court Female Genital Mutilation Rome Statute 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© T. M. C. Asser press, The Hague, The Netherlands, and the author 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.AmsterdamThe Netherlands

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