Research Handbook on Child Soldiers
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Research Handbook on Child Soldiers

Edited by Mark A. Drumbl and Jastine C. Barrett

Child soldiers remain poorly understood and inadequately protected, despite significant media attention and many policy initiatives. This Research Handbook aims to redress this troubling gap. It offers a reflective, fresh and nuanced review of the complex issue of child soldiering. The Handbook brings together scholars from six continents, diverse experiences, and a broad range of disciplines. Along the way, it unpacks the life-cycle of youth and militarization: from recruitment to demobilization to return to civilian life. The overarching aim of the Handbook is to render the invisible visible – the contributions map the unmapped and chart new directions. Challenging prevailing assumptions and conceptions, the Research Handbook on Child Soldiers focuses on adversity but also capacity: emphasising the resilience, humanity, and potentiality of children affected (rather than ‘afflicted’) by armed conflict.
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Chapter 7: Child soldiers in historical and comparative perspective: creating a space for data-driven analysis

David M. Rosen


The heart of the modern child soldier crisis is a problem of place, context and imagination. Despite the deeply felt concerns of humanitarian, human rights and children’s rights organizations – and the embodiment of these concerns in contemporary international criminal law – there are far fewer child soldiers in the world today than there were in the past. Indeed the evidence makes plain that the contemporary number of children under arms is a fraction of the vast numbers of children who had fought as soldiers in centuries past. Clear analysis of the actual circumstances and experiences of child soldiers has been hindered by the dominance of advocacy-driven narratives of child recruitment that confound empirical analysis. For historians, social scientists and others trying to engage in research and understanding of the issues surrounding the recruitment of the young, the adoption of the language of advocacy as the language of inquiry separates researchers from the experiences of real children and young people. The result is an impoverished analysis of child recruitment. Renewed emphasis on historical and comparative analysis, together with greater attention to localized issues, moves the analysis of child soldier recruitment onto far stronger empirical ground.

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