UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Armed groups, child soldiers and the pursuit of legitimacy Plowright, William


In armed conflicts around the world, armed groups recruit child soldiers into their organisations to fill a wide range of roles. In response, transnational advocacy networks have been mobilised to name-and-shame such armed groups and seek an end to this humanitarian concern through asserting the norm against the use of child soldiers. Some armed groups respond to this advocacy, and demobilise their child soldiers, while others ignore international pressure. There is a puzzle here: why do some armed groups demobilize child soldiers, while others do not? What makes armed groups more or less responsive to advocacy? I argue that some armed groups are engaging with the child soldiers norm in order to gain legitimacy from international audiences. Evidence shows that the armed groups that do this are those who have a large domestic support base but are losing their armed struggle. Armed groups do not engage with the norm if they are winning their struggle, or if they are losing and do not have a large domestic support base. In order to demonstrate this theory, I present evidence from qualitative interview-based research conducted in Syria and Myanmar in 2012 and 2013. I show that in these two dramatically different conflicts, armed groups follow the same forms of behavior. In both cases, it is only when groups are losing but have support, that they will dialogue with transnational advocacy networks in order to engage with the child soldiers norm and acquire international legitimacy.

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