Childhood, Law, And The Child Soldier Phenomenon
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Child soldiers have become an increasingly widespread phenomenon in modern warfare. The international community has attempted to address the issue through various amendments to current international humanitarian law. Unfortunately, they have been slow to succeed due to weak language and the inability of sovereign state governments to carry out the law. The trouble with addressing the issues lies with attempting to universalize a very westernized definition of childhood. Childhood is a social construct. In fact, most traditional societies delineate the end of childhood by the responsibilities an individual is in charge of or by marriage. It is mostly European and western societies that define a child by age. However various humanitarian organizations have trouble acknowledging that there are children who voluntarily participate in the atrocities that characterize war. They are firm believers in advocating the rights of the child, a heavily westernized concept. They are determined to absolve all children combatants of all war crimes instead of looking further into the problem to differentiate the perpetrators from the victims. In doing so they rob the local victimized families of justice and closure, instead subjecting them to sensitization and reintegration efforts. The question then becomes to what extent are international documents, like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that emphasize a western definition of childhood ineffective in eradicating the problem of and improving the reintegration of child soldiers?