The Economics of Child Soldiering

Lawrence MacDonald talks to Chris Blattman for a Global Prosperity Wonkcast on Blattman’s work:

According to his research, only about 10% of former child soldiers suffer debilitating psychological symptoms or have serious problems functioning within their communities. More typically, these youth take on leadership roles, and they are more likely to vote in elections than peers who were not abducted. With this in mind, Chris argues, programs to help the returnees should be structured to target psychological counseling to those who need it, while offering broader opportunities—such as education and job training—to former combatants whose psychological scars are less severe.

Chris and I also discuss a more basic question: why does child soldiering happen at all, and how can it be prevented? Chris explains the basic theories for why armed groups target children. To break this pattern, he says, countries should continue stiffening the penalties for recruiting children, to create a stronger deterrent effect. They should also better prepare children to resist and to escape if they are seized, for example, by publicizing amnesty laws, creating better educational and job opportunities for youth, and teaching children how to find their way home if they are abducted and run away.

I wonder how much of this might be relevant to the issue of criminal gangs in the United States and other western countries. In particular the idea of “stiffening the penalties for recruiting children” while offering amnesty to the children involved themselves seems to me to have some promise.