Introduction to the Research Handbook on Child Soldiers
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Throughout history, armed conflict has ensnared children. On occasion such children have been lauded as heroes or, at least, praised for their martial courage in the darkness of desperate times. Increasingly, however, the involvement of children in armed conflict is no longer seen as unbecoming or an anguished last stand but, instead, as flatly impermissible with the affected children projected as afflicted victims. Global consciousness has shifted. The drift of international human rights law, international criminal law and international humanitarian law both reflects and hardens this shift. The relationship of the child with armed conflict has migrated from one informed by ethics, needs and morality to one regulated by law, rules and public policy. The international community is progressively moving towards a position where the conscription, enlistment or use in hostilities of persons under the age of 18 – in particular by armed groups but also increasingly by armed forces – is seen as unlawful. Many activist and humanitarian groups commit to the cause of ending child soldiering. UNICEF and other United Nations (UN) organs have deeply invested themselves in this mission as well. In 1996, pursuant to a UN General Assembly resolution, Graca Machel of Mozambique submitted a ground-breaking report entitled Impact of Armed Conflict on Children (widely known as the Machel Report). The Machel Report firmly put children and violent conflict on the international agenda and has had considerable social constructivist influence. In light of one of its recommendations, for example, the Office of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict was established within the UN system. The UN Security Council, generally fractured, has unified to issue 12 resolutions over the past two decades on children in armed conflict. The focus of law- and policymakers has further expanded to address the place of children in terrorist groups and to interrogate how counter-terrorist strategies and initiatives should approach such children.