Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Political Science

Content Description

1 online resource (x, 333 pages) : illustrations (some color), color map.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Victor Asal

Committee Members

Erik Hoffmann, Marda Mustapha


child soldiers, conflict processes, tactical innovations, Child soldiers, War

Subject Categories

Africana Studies | Political Science | Social and Behavioral Sciences


Most armed conflicts in the late 20th and early 21st century involve the use of child soldiers. Children have been used in wars before the modern era, but this study argues that a shift has occurred in contemporary conflicts. Child soldier use has become a tactical innovation. Fighting factions utilize children as soldiers in order to gain an advantage on the battlefield. Several different analytical approaches are used in order to test the argument. First, a large-N regression analysis (1987-2007) reveals that depending on the dyadic relationship between government and opposition forces, intensity of war, military expenditures per GDP, political terror, troop size, polity and education correlate with child soldier use. Second, a historical analysis suggests that a century of youth empowerment, an increase in the ambiguity regarding the sanctity of civilian life in war, and exponential leaps in war technology all contributed to a shift in norms about children in the battlefield. Third, a social network analysis demonstrates the structural connection between groups that use child soldiers. The tactical innovation flows along pathways linked by multiple guerilla learning centers. The most prominent center is the Libyan guerilla training camps of the 1980s. Lastly, a single case study of the civil war in Sierra Leone offers insight into the ground-level dynamics of child solider use and how the practice can produce political opportunities. Policy suggestions centered on prevention, compellence and protection are offered in the concluding section.