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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Child Soldiers: Cultural Challenges

This topic has been one I’ve wanted to explore for a while now.  This is the opportune time to do so and get some insights on the matter. It relates to the dilemma international law and more importantly, the International Criminal Court will likely be facing in the future, with regard to the issue of child soldiering. In particular, I am referring to the cultural perception of the crime as viewed from a non-Western interpretation.

There are various factors which may be seen as obstacles to the universal qualification of the concept ‘child’ soldier for one, and the implications which attach thereto under international criminal law. According to the famous American anthropologist and lawyer David Rosen, in his article entitled Child Soldiers, International Humanitarian Law and the Globalisation of Childhood an impasse is reached in understanding the concept of childhood.  I refer to a modern interpretation of the concept as understood from an international perspective. The current interpretation under international humanitarian, criminal and human rights law posits a single, universal understanding of the concept.

A distinction must be drawn between ‘a child in culture’ and ‘a child in law’. The latter definition holds fast to the position that children falling under the age category of 18 and who are recruited into or are attached to any regular or irregular armed group qualifies as a child soldier. This is referred to as the straight 18 position and exemplifies the view that the recruitment or deployment of any individual under the age of 18 is criminally punishable under international law. There is clearly an expected difference when you examine the concept ‘child in culture’. I will use the case of child soldiering in Sierra Leone as an example. The Poro and Sande culture in Sierra Leone holds that ‘to be a warrior is to be an adult’ and part of this culture involves initiation ceremonies where boys between the ages of ten or eleven, are kidnapped and taken into seclusion into the bush where they are prepared for the ways of adulthood.  This forms a distinct marker for their transition into adulthood.