The Forgotten Ones: Domestic Child Soldiers in the United States


September 21 | 10:15-11:15 AM | Auditorium

The term child soldier conjures up images of a war-torn, Sub-Saharan African child holding a battle-worn rifle, staring into the distance of an uncertain future. Their story is well known: a paramilitary organization entered an area and forcibly recruited children to engage in conflict—protecting arms, drugs, or “turf”. Through the marketing of the child soldier story and its emotional response, the international community has been moved to action through hosting awareness raising campaigns, generating mass donations for care, and establishing recovery and rehabilitation programs. There is no doubt that the international child soldier is viewed as a victim and is treated accordingly. But, what constitutes a child soldier and does national and international policy assign the label unfairly? Many domestic (North American) child gang members meet the national and international definition of child soldier, having been forcibly recruited to engage in conflict. Domestic gang members, however, are generally viewed as perpetrators of crime whereas international child soldiers are almost exclusively seen as victims of crime. This presentation argues that issues of race, borders, poverty, ethnicity, agency, American superiority, and prison industry profit have intentionally co-opted the definition of child soldier away from domestic child gang members and that a reconceptualization is necessary in order to address the issue.

Presentation Objectives:

·       Describe what constitutes a child soldier

·       Explain how domestic gang members are child soldiers

·       Discuss the factors that lead society away from viewing domestic gang members

About the Presenter