The Industrial Organization of Rebellion: The Logic of Forced Labor and Child Soldiering
We investigate one of the world’s most pernicious forms of exploitation: child soldiering. Most theories can be captured by a principal-agent model that incorporates punishments, indoctrination, and age-varying productivity. For rebel leaders, we show it is almost always optimal to coerce rather than reward children, and that leaders will tend to forcibly recruit children when punishment and supervision are cheap, when children’s outside options are poor, and when rebel leaders are resource-constrained. To see which mechanisms dominate in practice, we interview and survey former members of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army, who provide a cruel natural experiment that reveals how children and adults respond to coercive incentives. The evidence suggests that children are more easily indoctrinated and disoriented than adults, but are less effective guerrillas; hence the optimal targets of coercion are young adolescents. We confirm predications of the model on a new “cross-rebel” dataset and suggest policy solutions.
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