David M. Rosen

in Childhood Studies

ISBN: 9780199791231
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:

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The study of children and war developed in the shadow of World War II and the Holocaust, in which millions of children were killed. The deaths of so many children in war raised the consciousness of the international community to the plight of children in situations of armed conflict. Not surprisingly, much of the scholarly and policy literature is dominated by concerns about the need to protect children from both the immediate and long-term consequences of war. In recent years, however, there has been some pushback against this approach, with many studies focusing on the agency and resilience of children, even in violent circumstances. As a result, research on war-affected children is characterized by a tension over whether children are best viewed through the lens of victimhood, or as resilient agents. These two perspectives, however, are not mutually exclusive: Children can be victimized by war and also remain remarkably resilient under extraordinarily dangerous and difficult circumstances. The effect of these two distinct perspectives on the same phenomenon can most readily be seen in studies of child soldiers, one of the most contentious problems of modern armed conflict. For many years, discussions of child soldiers were dominated by advocacy and policy literature that promoted banning the use of child soldiers. Generally, such work assumes that all persons under age eighteen are vulnerable and easily exploited and that the issue of child soldiers derives from the criminal exploitation of defenseless children by unscrupulous adults. The vast majority of child soldiers are teenagers, and in analyzing their involvement in armed combat, the advocacy literature tends to ignore their agency and political motivation or the historical circumstances in which they become soldiers. Scholars should be aware that though analyses may be shaped by a policy agenda, the data gathered for these studies can nonetheless often be of value. However, researchers need to be careful and intellectually critical when using such data, since advocacy literature contains many stated and unstated prescriptive policy presumptions. In recent years, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and others have published more nuanced studies of the problem, taking into account the circumstances surrounding recruitment, the patterns of recruitment, the agency and subjective experiences of children, the distinction between children and adolescents, and cross-cultural differences in the meaning of childhood. These studies provide a more complex understanding of the role of children and youth in armed forces and groups. Similar issues are being considered in the study of other aspects of children’s lives in situations of conflict. One frequent result of war is that children are forcibly displaced from their families, homes, communities, and countries. As with studies of child soldiers, studies of these displaced children range from those that detail the plight of youngsters and the need for local, national, and international intervention to studies that describe the ability of young people to build new lives, create new relationships, and shape political, religious, and other social institutions to meet their own needs.

Article.  10897 words. 

Subjects: Development Studies

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