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Young Soldiers: Why They Choose To Fight

Rachel Brett and Irma Specht
Young Soldiers: Why They Choose To Fight
ISBN: 978-1-58826-285-1
ISBN: 978-1-58826-261-5
2004/192 pages/LC: 2003025740
A related title: Child Labor in Sub-Saharan Africa by Loretta Bass.

"A mine of information about children and war."—Ed Cairns, The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

"Young Soldiers is a book that provides the reader with a powerful opportunity to learn from the 'inside out.' It is an opportunity that should not be missed."—Shyrl Topp Matias, International Journal on World Peace

"I want to advise people who want to be rebel fighters, young soldiers, that they should learn from what we have gone through, which is too sad an experience. Those children younger than we are should never again be involved in such a life anymore. What I have seen and undergone is not for a child to experience."—Arthur, Sierra Leone


They are part of rebel factions, national armies, paramilitaries, and other armed groups and entrenched in some of the most violent conflicts around the globe. They are in some ways still children?yet, from Afghanistan to Sierra Leone to Northern Ireland, you can find them among the fighters. Why?

Young Soldiers explores the reasons that adolescents who are neither physically forced nor abducted choose to join armed groups. Drawing on in-depth interviews with the soldiers themselves, the authors challenge conventional wisdom to offer a thought-provoking account of the role that war, poverty, education, politics, identity, family, and friends all play in driving these young men and women to join military life. They also address the important issues of demobilization and the reintegration process.

International in scope, covering a variety of situations in Afghanistan, Colombia, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and the United Kingdom, Young Soldiers concludes with a discussion of the steps needed to create an environment in which adolescents are no longer forced to "volunteer."


Rachel Brett is representative for human rights and refugees at the Quaker United Nations Office in Geneva; she is also a fellow of the Human Rights Centre at Essex University. Irma Specht is an anthropologist working at the International Labour Organization.


  • Introduction.
  • The Broad Context.
  • The Life of the Prospective Volunteer.
  • The Critical Moment.
  • A Complex of Risk Factors.
  • Girls and Boys.
  • The Concept of Volunteering.
  • Conclusion.
  • Appendixes.