International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Parent Accountability for Crimes of Child Soldiers

The previous post “Children and Crimes” brings up an interesting point on responsibility of choices. In the first video clip that we watched in class yesterday, a mother said something to the effect of, “they blame us for our children’s crimes.” It raises a question that is only briefly discussed in the issue of child soldiers: are parents ever guilty for crimes committed by their children?

In the case of Uganda, most child soldiers were abducted and/or drugged, thus released – to a certain degree – of responsibility since they didn’t “make that decision.” However, there have been cases in which parents have sold their children to rebels or freely given them away (sometimes, for fear of what the rebels would do if they didn’t). In both scenarios, the parents of those children made the choices for them. In this case, shouldn’t parents also be held accountable? In which cases are they responsible and which cases are they not?

While it would not be fair to fully pass on the baton of guilt and responsibility on over to their parents if the child was, in fact, conscious of his decisions, it does raise the important concept of culpability.

The Senate of the Philippines endorsed a Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Bill in order to counteract the use of children in armed conflict in the Philippines by the communist rebel New People’s Army (NPA) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, as well as by government forces and militias.

Part of the Bill makes it “unlawful for parents, ascendants, guardians, step parents or collateral relatives within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity, or any person having control or moral ascendancy to the child, to allow, willfully encourage, compel, coerce or influence their child or children to be part of an armed group or a governmental armed force.” Therefore, the bill allows for the parents of child soldiers to be prosecuted. Recently, Human Rights Watch suggested that the bill be amended to omit the above clause. Communities and families do have a role to play in preventing children from associating with armed forces or armed groups and in certain cases – if they actively fail in that role – they should be held accountable.


2 responses to “Parent Accountability for Crimes of Child Soldiers

  1. awoodz November 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Interesting argument parvathy249, but I have to say I disagree very much with you. I think before we so readily demand “accountability” for parents’ “choices” we need to specify what we mean in using those terms. Accountability as a judicial principle implies exacting some sort of retributive justice for an action or decision that the perpetrator had full discretion to make. It is about assessing not just the fact that person X made a decision Y, but that person X freely planned to make a decision Y knowing full well the consequences of said decision Y.

    So, the question is, did parents really make the “choice” to “allow” their children to become child soldiers? Keep in mind as well the cultural context that these families are embroiled in during conflict. Take for example, Rwanda, which had been overcome by a culture of brutal violence for decades. Many families suffered unspeakable atrocities and psychological and physical mutilation. War was not a thing that happened in a far away land, it happened near (if not at) home and crimes were often perpetrated by people they knew or recognized – they experienced the consequences of war every single day, when another family member was killed or raped or when they home was pillaged. Many children were born and raised in IDP camps. So, when a rebel army invades your hometown and tells you that if you don’t give up your children they will mutilate your whole family, the “decision” to “let” your children go is not really a choice at all. An action made under terror, torture, and threat of death is not a deliberate choice, it is a form of violence.

    Furthermore, prosecuting parents (even if they had really made the free choice to give their children up) would entail extremely serious practical and social consequences. The family unit is often a site of rehabilitation for defected child soldiers. The family is often the only ones who will take a child soldier back and help reintegrate them back into the community. In addition, prosecuting all parents of child soldiers would essentially mean criminalizing a huge portion of the population. Not only would this have a detrimental effect on social structures, but such criminalization would break families, imprison and ostracize a crucial segment of the labor force, and deepen an already frayed trust with the government. And, there is no way that the state could even have the capacity to prosecute parents, considering that courts are trying to focus on the actual lead perpetrators of violence.

    Finally, I think your point sheds light on the ethical problem often associated with scholarly theoretical analysis of post-conflict situations. As scholars far removed from the objects of our study, it is sometimes easy to forget that we are dealing with people here, who have experienced things that are impossible for us to comprehend. It may seem like parents are “choosing” to give up their children, but we were not there when the children were abducted from their families (and, significantly, many families DO fight back and try to find their abducted children at their own peril). Sorry to tear apart your argument so much, but to inculpate people for merely being involved in war context is a very very dangerous thing, and frankly I’m astonished that such a law could even garner endorsement.

  2. parvathy249 November 29, 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Awoodz, thank you very much for your comment – no apology, necessary. I think there were perhaps some aspects of my argument that were generalized to stand for an idea as a whole and not the specific circumstances I actually presented.

    Your definition of accountability brings up an important issue: control. Accountability and responsibility are often acquainted with the degree of control an individual has. This makes him less or more “accountable.” My original post did not indicate that all parents should always be held accountable for their children despite the level of control they had – in fact, that is precisely the question I raise: is there a situation in which parents would be at fault and not necessarily the children?

    As I mentioned in my post, considering the culpability of parents of Ugandan child soldiers is an exercise in futility because the children – like in Rwanda – were forcefully abducted. My post instead, highlights the times when parents (person X) had control and did *plan* (decision Y) fully knowing, but perhaps disregarding or undermining, the consequences (of decision Y). This was the case of the Phillipines and this is why their Senate proposed the Bill with a majority vote.

    The objection that you raise in your third paragraph is a very valid one and it is exactly the point that Human Rights Watch highlights in its reasoning for why the bill should be amended and omit the clause on the prosecution of parents (article is hyperlinked in the original post). Besides that clause, the Bill has been complemented for its many detailed sections that talk about the ways in which children can be enrolled in sustainable rehabilitation programs.

    Regarding the plausibility of prosecuting “a huge portion of the population” or “[inculpating] people for merely being involved in a war context” these are both very important factors that are taken into consideration when *investigating* individuals guilty of crimes. Since the situation presented above – where parents make fully conscious decisions regarding their children – is very rare, the probability that this would involved a huge portion of the population is quite low. Additionally, this does not inculpate people for being involved in the context of war, but being *negatively active* in it.

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