Child Soldiers, Executive Functions, and Culpability

International Criminal Law Review 16 (2):258-286 (2016)
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Child soldiers, who often appear to be both victims and perpetrators, present a vexing moral and legal challenge: how can we protect the rights of children while seeking justice for the victims of war crimes? There has been little stomach, either in domestic or international courts, for prosecuting child soldiers—but neither has this challenge been systematically addressed in international law. Establishing a uniform minimum age of criminal responsibility would be a major step in the right direction; we argue that such a standard ought to be guided by the best evidence from neuropsychology about the development, during childhood and adolescence, of the executive functions that give rise to morally and legally responsible agents. In light of that evidence, which suggests that the brain’s executive functions are still maturing into early adulthood, we recommend a graded structure of culpability for child soldiers.



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