With the critically important exception of sexual violence, there is considerable evidence to suggest that men, not women, are more vulnerable to the major impacts of armed conflict. Of course, it is not surprising that far more men get killed on the battlefield than women, since they make up the overwhelming majority of com-batants. But case study evidence also suggests that wom-en are less likely to be victims of ‘collateral damage’, and non-combatant males are more likely to be subject to mass killing than non-combatant females. Further, some recent epidemiological survey evidence finds that males are more likely to die from war-induced malnutrition and disease than females.
What these findings suggest is that women are more resilient and less vulnerable to the impacts of armed con-flict than much of the literature that focuses on women as victims suggests. The increased participation of women in government military forces, rebel groups and even terror-ist organisations also serves to remind us that depicting women simply as passive victims of political violence can be profoundly misleading.
Of course, children are the most vulnerable of all. The discussion on child soldiers draws on recent research by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and Brookings Institution analyst Peter W. Singer. Here the focus is not so much on the economic and strategic imperatives that impel the recruitment of children and that were briefly re-viewed in Part I, but on how children under arms are used and abused.
Most analysts believe that there has been a dra-matic increase in the use of child soldiers over the past three decades, driven in part by economic imperatives. Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children make cheap, expendable soldiers. Armed with modern light weapons, they can be swiftly transformed into ef-ficient, low-cost killers.
But lack of reliable data again confounds attempts to determine whether numbers of child soldiers have recently been increasing or decreasing. Both governments and reb-el forces routinely lie about their use of child soldiers and few if any records are kept, making the task of estimating numbers extremely difficult.
The estimate of 300,000 child soldiers worldwide dates back almost a decade, yet it is repeatedly cited as if it were current. However, given the dramatic decline in the num-ber of wars since then—and the consequent demobilisa-tion of fighters, including children—it would be surprising if child soldier numbers had not fallen along with those of regular forces during this period.
Whatever the numbers, there is no doubt that children generally—and not just child soldiers—suffer most from the impact of armed conflict and displacement. Among children, those under five years of age are by far the most vulnerable to death from war-induced malnutrition and disease. In some conflicts more than 50% of the ‘indirect deaths’ from armed conflicts are children in this category.
Human Security Report 2005, Assault on the Vulnerable, Part III, Page 102. http://web.archive.org/web/20070514061254/http://www.humansecurityreport.info/HSR2005_HTML/Part3/index.htm