International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Children and Crimes

The concept of child-soldiers has obviously come up many times during class, in the news, and in our articles.  I find it interesting their innocence in the perpetration of crimes is consistently assumed.  While the majority of child-soldiers in most African nations were plausibly forced to commit crimes by threats, there are also many instances in which child-soldiers actively choose to join rebel groups and participate in the violence.  Many join because it can be a form of occupation when they otherwise have no income/protection options.  Of course there are levels of force to be considered, but when considering accountability of child-soldiers in conflict zones the all or nothing (namely nothing) approach becomes interesting when juxtaposed against juvenile prosecutions in the States.

Ignoring arguments of cultural imperialism that could be pulled from that statement, children in the States are not only tried for their crimes (in the juvenile system) but are frequently tried as adults.  Jason Brown was tried as an adult at age 11 and considered for the death penalty for a singular crime.  There are already so many complications in transitional justice it is understandable that amnesty for child-soldiers would, at least at this point, be a given.  I wonder, however, if at some point transitional justice mechanisms will need to consider the context of child perpetration of violent crimes and find more nuanced and multi-level approaches in terms of accountability.


2 responses to “Children and Crimes

  1. patrickwu November 28, 2012 at 6:16 am

    Children soldiers have been, for the most part, assumed innocent because the scope of the conflict shapes their innocence. Within many of the conflicts, it is difficult to even prosecute every adult that took part of the crimes–systems such as Rwanda’s Gacaca and Northern Uganda’s Mato Oput pick up some of this slack. To even begin planning to pursue children for their crimes is a far-cry action.

    Furthermore, traditional justice systems have ways of taking care of ex-combatant children. According to Huyse, there is a special ritual in Sierra Leone where “the eldest member of the family prayed over a cup of water and rubbed it over the child’s body (particularly the head, feet, and chest), asking God and the ancestors to give the child a ‘cool heart'” (Huyse 12). Furthermore, the documentary that we viewed today in class showed that the two commanders, who were taken as children into the LRA, still had to face crimes they committed even as children. In particular, it is difficult to even claim that they view children soldiers as “innocent”–rather, many cultures view the children soldiers as having been possessed by evil spirits or were impure when they committed their crimes.

    Lastly, it would be difficult to compare the cases of children who have committed serious crimes in the States to the children soldiers who have committed crimes. Many of the famous cases involving children criminals on international levels, in particular Omar Khadr (, are often children who were in special situations where they knowingly and without force committed their crimes. Given that it is already extremely difficulty to have accountability for all adult perpetrators, to hold accountability for children perpetrators would be extraordinarily, if not impossibly, difficult.

  2. mrmaroon14 December 7, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    The conviction and/or prosecution of child soldiers in environments that present mass human rights violations are an unrealistic pursuit in my opinion. As stated above, the hand of justice usually doesn’t reach far enough to touch all adults involved let alone children. And deciding which children willingly participated in armed conflict as opposed to those who were forced is an impossibly difficult task in itself. According to, the number of children under the age of 16 participating in armed conflicts is somewhere around 200,000-300,000. That is a massive number to try and deal with each on a case by case basis.
    A more interesting point of view, at least to me, would be what percentage of children who are freed from being “forced” to be a child soldier, go on to commit other violent crimes throughout their lives? If I was forced to guess, I’d assume this number would be shockingly high. The question then becomes, if the majority of children who participate, willingly or not, in armed conflict continue with acts of violence throughout their life, would it be better for everyone if there was a way to punish them? Dealing with child soldiers is never really thought of when penalties for human rights violations arise, but maybe they should be.

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