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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 Blattman's suggestion:

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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