Child Soldiers Should Be Prosecuted
Should countries prosecute child soldiers for the crimes they committed during wartime? Should there be an international minimum age of criminal responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity?
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Child soldiers are no different from child criminals. Child soldiers have been responsible for some...
Child soldiers are no different from child criminals. Child soldiers have been responsible for some of the most brutal and violent acts in wartime. In Sierra Leone child soldiers committed acts of rape, mutilation and mass killings of civilians. Under most domestic laws the age of criminal responsibility is much lower than 18, in the USA criminal responsibility can be as low as age 8. If a child can be convicted for murder under national law they should also be held responsible for international crimes. There should be no exception simply because the crimes occurred in wartime.
Child soldiers are not morally responsible for their actions. Children are often forced into fighting and have little choice over whether or not they enlist. After that, they are following orders of adults rather than acting of their own free will. The recruiters of child soldiers also use drugs and alcohol to make children more compliant and to enable them to commit acts they would not ordinarily commit. Child soldiers should therefore not be held responsible for actions they were forced to commit and had little understanding of.
Many children volunteer to become soldiers in wartime out of patriotism or a desire to avenge the de...
Many children volunteer to become soldiers in wartime out of patriotism or a desire to avenge the death of their families. Being a soldier is also a way of earning money. If a child has volunteered to be a soldier then they should be held accountable for the acts they committed in this role. It is wrong to say that all child soldiers are forced into fighting or that they had no control over their actions. Many children occupy command positions in their armed group/military and are responsible for planning or ordering the commission of war crimes and human rights abuses. These children knew exactly what they were doing and should not be excused from their actions simply because they are thought to be too young to take responsibility.
Most children are forcibly recruited and even when they enlist they may not have thought carefully about their decision or made an informed choice. It may be that the child thought it would be safer to enlist or factors such as poverty and hunger influenced their decision rather than a desire to fight. Once children are recruited into the military it is also difficult for them to leave because they become dependent on their commanders for drugs, alcohol, money and food. Even if it looks like a child has volunteered this may not be the case. Child soldiers rarely have the same understanding of their decisions and actions as adults and therefore should not be held responsible for their actions.
Prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity take place in the specific context of a post...
Prosecutions for war crimes and crimes against humanity take place in the specific context of a post-conflict society. It is important that child soldiers are included in post-war justice, so that the whole community can see that the perpetrators of human rights violations are punished. The finality of a trial also helps to draw a line under the conflict and allows a society to move on.
The aim should not be punishment of child soldiers but rehabilitation. There are alternatives that achieve this aim better than prosecutions. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and Disarmarment, Demobilisation and Rehabilitation programs (DDR) are a better way of helping child soldiers come to terms with what they did and re-integrate them into society. Prosecutions pose the risk of being one-sided victor’s justice. They may also be selective because of lack of evidence or an overloaded justice system, so not every child soldier will be prosecuted. It is better to have a comprehensive program of rehabilitation so that all child soldiers can be re-integrated into society and rehabilitated.
Allowing child soldiers immunity from prosecution denies victims justice. If you are a victim of an...
Allowing child soldiers immunity from prosecution denies victims justice. If you are a victim of an ordinary crime at the hands of a child, that child can be prosecuted and held to account but if you are the victim of a child soldier this would not occur. Child soldiers are often ordered to commit abuses against their own families and communities. It is unfair to victims that will have to live side-by-side with their attacker and see them walk free without any punishment.
Child soldiers are often victims of war themselves. Prosecutions do not allow the opportunity to rehabilitate child soldiers and instead prioritise the rights of victims over the rights of the child, even though the child himself will probably have suffered abuse as well.
Not prosecuting child soldiers may encourage commanders to use child soldiers to commit war crimes b...
Not prosecuting child soldiers may encourage commanders to use child soldiers to commit war crimes because they know there will be no consequences. International efforts to deter warring parties from committing atrocities require a clear and credible message to be sent: anyone involved in war crimes will face justice in future.
It is unlikely that prosecutions after the fact would have this effect. Prosecutions only happen after the war has ended so those who recruit child soldiers will not take this into consideration. Moreover, they are already breaking the law by using child soldiers so they are unlikely to stop using child soldiers just because the child faces a risk of prosecution.
What do you think?