NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 19, 2005

War in the 21st century has a tragic and dangerous new face: the face of children. Arming children for war is now a rule rather than a rarity, according to Peter W. Singer, senior fellow of Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.

Around the world, the increasing presence of child soldiers has caught many U.S. troops unprepared. Easy to recruit and indoctrinate, children are the soldiers of choice for terrorists, rebels and warlords. According to Singer, the involvement of children makes conflicts easier to start and harder to end. He also reports:

  • Worldwide, there are more than 300,000 soldiers under the age of 18.
  • Those 300,000 underage soldiers serve in 40 percent of the world's armed forces, rebel groups and terrorist organizations and fight in almost 75 percent of the world's conflicts.
  • Another 500,000 children serve in armed forces not currently at war.

The definition of adults as being 18-years-of-age or older is not a Western construct but an international standard, adopted by more than 190 countries. Child soldiers are getting younger and younger and variations in cultural standards of maturity are not a valid argument, says Singer:

  • The youngest known terrorist is a 9-year-old boy from Columbia.
  • In Uganda, researchers discovered an armed 5-year-old, the youngest ever recorded.
  • In the post-9/11 war on terrorism, the very first U.S. soldier killed was a Green Beret, shot in Afghanistan by a 14-year-old sniper.

The faces of terrorism are no longer the faces of Osama Bin Laden and Iraqi insurgents, but the deceivingly innocent faces of children, says Singer.

Source: Peter W. Singer, "Too Young to Kill," Brookings Institution, January 9, 2005.


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