are they victims or perpetrators or both
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If you are talking about child soldiers, I would say that they are much more victims than they are perpetrators.
You might say that they are perpetrators because they, of their own free will, commit terrible acts. They may be children, but they have their own will and they are choosing to do those things.
However, it is hard to argue that they are the ones who are most at fault. These are kids who are taken, usually by force, and put in the military. They are placed in an environment where their impulses towards being civilized are overwhelmed by the violent culture that surrounds them. Even grown men commit atrocities in war, and child soldiers are much more likely to do so. They are victims of their circumstances and of the people who coerce them to fight.
If a child is forced to join an army and engage in and commit violent acts then I believe they are victims, not perpetrators. In addition, a child is not mentally capable of dealing with war if they are forced to do so. I also do not think that a child would be able to deal with this sort of thing later in life either and would have very traumatic consequences on the child emotionally. Unfortunately, this happens in some parts of the world and it is very tragic that innocence is stolen from these children.
This kind of violence, on the scale that it is occurring, is a sociopathic act. Children have been desensitized to taking human life. This is a learned act. They have been socialized to believe and act this way, and in so doing, a very key element of their humanity, as well as their childhood, has been taken from them. It's difficult in all cases, and impossible in most, for the child to regain their humanity through normal means, so it is a tragedy not just for the victims of their violence, but for the children themselves.
This kind of activity participated in at such a young age is an almost certain predictor of traumatic, negative behaviors, many of which are listed above. Let's say they make it through the violence and are somehow able to pursue some kind of normal life. How does that work, living normally with the sights and sounds and feelings and emotions and scars of that previous experience. What I find a little scary is the fact that these effects are mostly silent and internal, which means they generally go unseen..until something triggers a reaction and it's too late for everyone.
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