Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2007


International law provides no explicit guidelines for whether or at what age child soldiers should be prosecuted for grave violations of international humanitarian and human rights law such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. This paper argues that the hundreds of thousands of children under age eighteen participating in armed conflicts around the globe should be treated primarily as victims, not perpetrators, of human rights violations and that international law may support this conclusion. In the case of children, the world community should choose rehabilitation and reintegration over criminal prosecution because of children's unique psychological and moral development, the Convention on the Rights of the Child's emphasis on promoting the best interests of the child, and the damaging psychological effects that trials may have on children forced to recount violence done to them and others.

After providing background information on child soldiers in Part I, Part II of this Article analyzes the current legal framework under international humanitarian, human rights, and criminal law, and the international law of the child, considering both a state's duty to prosecute perpetrators of international crimes and its affirmative obligations to rehabilitate and reintegrate former child soldiers into society. Next, Part III formulates a policy proposal for filling lacunae in the law, suggesting in particular that children under age eighteen should not be prosecuted for international crimes, and instead, should be treated primarily as victims of armed conflict. Part III also examines how the differing assumptions of the international relations paradigms of Liberalism and Institutionalism affect strategies for achieving this policy goal, and it provides other solutions for addressing the problem of child soldiers who commit atrocities. In conclusion, this paper emphasizes our responsibilities to make this a world "fit for children."



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.