Tactical Innovation and the Use of Child Solders in Civil Wars
46 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 4 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
Why do governments and rebel groups employ child soldiers in some internal armed conflicts but not in others? While previous studies have examined aspects of the causes and consequences of child soldier usage, to date there has never been a comprehensive empirical analysis that has examined their worldwide usage. In this study, we develop a theory that explains the use of child soldiers as a tactical military innovation that rebel groups have greater incentives and abilities to adopt as compared to governments. As we argue, however, governments’ incentives and ability to adopt child soldiers increase dramatically if rebels adopt the tactic. According to our theory, the decision to adopt child soldiers by governments and rebel groups will be primarily driven by tactical considerations rather than the socio-demographic factors typically highlighted in the literature. To test our theory, we collected global data on the usage of child soldiers by governments and rebel groups in 109 internal armed conflicts from 1987-2007. This new data shows that governments and rebels employed child soldiers in 45% of the internal armed conflicts that took place during this period, whereas governments were the only party to employ them in 10% of the cases and rebels were the only part to do so in 26% of the cases. Our analysis of these cases using binomial and multinomial estimation techniques reveal strong support for our tactically-driven explanation of child soldier usage, especially compared to the rival socio-demographic account. Our findings have salient implications for how this problem should be understood and the policy measures that may be effective in diminishing its occurrence.
Keywords: Child Soldiers, Internal Armed Conflict, Military Innovation
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