Root Causes of Child Recruitment

Children are considered an economically efficient alternative to adult combatants. They are easily indoctrinated and are efficient fighters because they have not yet developed a concept of death.

Forced vs. “voluntary” recruitment

Forced recruitment, where many children were abducted and beaten into submission, was for a long time the archetype of child soldiering. While there is no doubt that many groups continue to abduct and coerce children to join, there are other push and pull factors that result in children becoming involved in armed conflict.

Push and pull factors

Poverty can be an important motivating factor to join armed forces and groups. For some children joining armed groups ensures one meal which is why some parents give their children to the movement in the hope that they will be fed and housed.

Discrimination is also a key motivating factor. Ethnic, tribal and religious identity, linked to the notion of discrimination, is potent in the mobilization of whole communities including children. When children witness the killing, humiliation of their parents and watch their sisters being raped, they might join out of a feeling of revenge. Many children are also requested by their families and communities to play their part in the defence of the community.

Sometimes young boys and girls can be attracted by the idea of martyrdom and heroic death.

There is no voluntary enlistment

The distinction between “voluntary” enlistment and forced recruitment is without meaning because even if children join on a “voluntary” basis, it is a desperate attempt to survive. Ultimately it is the decision of adult commanders to recruit children and they have to be held accountable for their acts.

Understanding the root causes

Gaps remain in understanding the underlying motivations of children to engage in armed conflict. This needs more in depth research, in order to prevent and respond to child recruitment.