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Military use of children

The military use of children refers to children being placed in harm's way in military actions, the desire being to protect a location or provide propaganda. (This is sometimes referred to as child sacrifice, though not equivalent to the religious variety.) It may also refer to the use of children as child soldiers or saboteurs.


Throughout history and in many cultures, children have been extensively involved in military campaigns, even when such practices were in supposedly against cultural mores. In ancient Sparta, for example, male children began military training at a very young age.

In medieval Europe, young boys were used as military aides ("squires"), though in theory their role in actual combat was limited. The so-called Children's Crusade[?] in 1212 recruited thousands of children as untrained soldiers under the assumption that divine power would enable them to conquer the enemy, although none of the children actually entered combat.

Modern Developments

It is alleged that children have been sacrificed in military actions in modern times. Soldiers use children as cover, and if the enemy holds fire because of this practice, they are at a disadvantage. If the enemy soldiers open fire, this can be valuable for propaganda purposes.

Accusations of using this practice have been levelled at Palestinians; some claims say that some parents boast that they raised their children for that sole purpose. US military personnel in Vietnam reported that Vietnamese children were sometimes sent with hand grenades strapped to their bodies under their clothes to cause death to unsuspecting American soldiers. However, it should be noted that both of these accusations have sometimes been decried as false; some allege that such stories are used to justify the atrocities committed by a military force against children.

The recruitment of children as soldiers is a practice that has survived into modern times. In one instance, during the later stages of the Iran-Iraq War, both sides were accused of using teenaged children to fill out the ranks of soldiers depleted by years of warfare.

In other cases, the recruitment of children is a regular occurrence. Guerrilla movements, in particular, are often accused of recruiting or even forcing children into military campaigns. According to Amnesty International,

"An estimated 300,000 children under the age of eighteen are currently participating in armed conflicts in more than thirty different countries on nearly every continent. While most child soldiers are in their teens, some are as young as seven years old."

More recently, however, a strong international movement has emerged to put an end to the practice. See, for example, Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.

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