Voluntary child soldiering : a case-study of the anti-apartheid struggle
In this thesis, I present a theoretical framework in which children's voluntary participation in armed conflict becomes a reasonable act within their social environment. I argue that in order to gain a more analytical understanding of why children volunteer, social scientists require an in-depth knowledge of the political, social and economic conditions in which they join up And of the meanings that children attach to those situations and their reactions. Prior quantitative data on the social distribution of child volunteering have often been used to proclaim that `the most vulnerable of the vulnerable' are recruited. On the basis of a discourse analysis of UNHCR's policies and activities in relation to under-age recruitment, I illustrate my claim that dominant Euro-American conceptualisations of childhood have primarily shaped research and humanitarian aid regarding child soldiering and resulted in the portrayal of child soldiers as innocent victims who are corrupted by adult wars. I subsequently go on to show how a new paradigm for the study of childhood can enhance contemporary knowledge on the social processes and factors that lead children to consider and eventually join a military group or opt for an alternative mode of action to cope with their dire situation. In my qualitative case-study of child soldiering in the anti-apartheid struggle, I found that in joining a political organisation and subsequently its military wing, young South Africans sought to assert their (political) agency within the structural and cultural features that shaped their social environment. Within the context of changing peer and intergenerational relationships, these children carved out more powerful identities for them to address the social injustices that had affected their personal and collective lives.