Economists like to think most problems
can be approached with the tools of their field--but can economics stop
child soldiering? The question hinges on whether changing incentives can persuade recruiters to stop targeting children, and can encourage child-soldiers to give up arms. Chris Blattman, Yale
political science and economics professor thinks it's possible, as he says in a discussion
with Lawrence MacDonald of the Center for Global
development. "Let's start with the assumption that rebel leaders are
calculating and that they respond to incentives," Blattman says. "Children are more easily misled,
they are more easily indoctrinated." Plus rebel leaders find it easier
to convince children that they'll be killed or jailed if they try to go
back after having participated in the rebel cause. MacDonald summarizes
To break this pattern, he says, countries
should continue stiffening the penalties for recruiting children, to
create a stronger deterrent effect. They should also better prepare
children to resist and to escape if they are seized, for example, by
publicizing amnesty laws, creating better educational and job
opportunities for youth, and teaching children how to find their way
home if they are abducted and run away.
Blattman doesn't spend
much time explaining how harsher penalties could be imposed on rebel
groups that clearly aren't being punished for the ordinary
crimes--murder, rape, looting--they are already committing. Child
soldiering tends to take place in weaker states that might
struggle to enforce laws, or to provide "better educational and job
opportunities for youth" or even publicize amnesty laws. But this idea intrigues liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias
who wonders if Blattman's ideas might be applied to criminal gangs in
Western countries like the United States: "In particular the idea of
'stiffening the penalties for recruiting
children' while offering amnesty to the children involved themselves
seems to me to have some promise."
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