Foreign Policy’s latest contrarian piece is Think Again: Child Soliders – What human rights activists never tell you about young killers.
You’re being provocative, FP. Fine. I get it. Normally I even like it, but in this case it comes across as callous and offensive.
“What human rights activist never tell you about young killers” implies that human rights activists are hiding some kind of shocking, dirty secret about “young killers,” when there isn’t actually anything shocking or revelatory or even that interesting in the article (except, for me, the mention of post-conflict beauty schools). Well-informed human rights activists have, in fact, been making the author’s points for years.
And about that “young killers” line — yes, in a literal sense, many child soldiers (though far from all –as the author himself points out in his third paragraph) have killed. But “killers” is a term we usually preface with “cold-blooded” or “serial,” and it carries a connotation of evil, rather than exploitation or tragedy.
While acknowledging the agency of child soldiers, we nonetheless have to recognize that they are still children, as international law rightly does. Child soldiers may do terrible, horrifying things, but there is a reason the international community treats them differently than adult combatants during DDR and prioritizes rehabilitation for even child soldiers who have committed serious crimes. Children aren’t evil. Ever.
Calling child soldiers “young killers” plays into the framing that has been used to keep child soldier Omar Khadr, who was just fifteen when he was captured during a battle in Afghanistan, locked away in Guantanamo for the past seven years as an “enemy combatant.”
I sincerely doubt FP would use this title: Think Again: Sex Trafficking – What human rights activists don’t want you to know about transnational tramps.*
The headline FP used for its child soldiers article is in just as poor taste.