Having to kill another human being is traumatic enough. But when a child has to do it, either in defense of themselves, in defense of another, or being forced at gunpoint or swordpoint themselves to do it, the effect can be all the more horrifying. The fact that even children are forced to hand out violence in a setting to defend themselves adds to the cynicism
of a setting. Children having to kill on a regular basis is a red flag for a Crapsack World
The reasons for a child having to kill vary. They may have been attacked by someone and struck out in defense: they just happened to have the right thing on hand. Equally, they may manage to get the drop on someone who is trying to murder a parent or other carer. As mentioned before, they may be forced to do it, either as some form of Training from Hell
or just from a complete sadist. This will be made all the more tragic if it was someone close to the character: a friend, relative or, worst of all, their own parent or even parents.
If this is in a characters past, it will be a dark and troubled one.
Can lead to an even more warped form of Blood-Splattered Innocents
. Often the cause of a Dark and Troubled Past
. Child Soldiers
must do this as a matter of course. Kid Hero
stories with a particularly dark tone may also have this as normality for the setting, especially if that setting is a Teenage Wasteland
. Tyke Bombs
can become this if said Tyke bomb is forced to kill before it can be defused.
Of course, this goes along with Child Soldiers
Note: Children who kill when they don't have to aren't this: that's some form of Enfant Terrible
Anime and Manga
- Black Lagoon: The Vampire Twins started out as this when they were forced to kill other children in paedophilic Snuff Films. At some point they broke and began to like it.
- Happens in various Gundam franchises where the protagonists are young enough and the universe serious enough. Although combat is generally personified by mechas, the protagonists generally never forget that there is a person inside the war machine that is so easy to objectify, and spend time angsting over it.
- In Gundam 00 the protagonist was brainwashed as a young child into becoming a member of a terrorist organisation. Part of the initiation involved killing his own parents.
- Gunslinger Girl is all about this.
- Madlax has this as part of the Back Story: the plot stems from the fact that Margaret killed her own father (in self-defence) when she was 5 years old.
- Killua from Hunter × Hunter is an example. Being a member of a Big Screwed-Up Family of assassins, he's taught to kill from infancy, and forced into the life of an assassin without being given much of any choice in the matter. He was murdering people before he turned 6, and by the time he appears in the show - at an age of maybe 10 or 11 - he's already killed hundreds of people.
- In D.Gray-Man, the average age for an Exorcist seems to be late teens. Allen's fifteenish when things start, Lenalee's about the same but has been working as one since childhood, Lavi's eighteen, and Kanda has been an Exorcist since the day he was born due to certain experiments performed by the Order.
- This is the whole premise of Naruto, basically. Regular shinobi become genin at 12 and are expected to live the rest of their lives in the field infiltrating, guarding, fighting, and killing in an endless cycle of hatred and violence. For extreme examples we have shinobi like Itachi, who was exposed to war at four and made his first kill at seven.
- Elfen Lied: The Diclonius are all young girls. The iconic bloody first episode shows Lucy kill scores of men, and she's in her early teens. Several other Diclonii are forced to deal lethal attacks to each other throughout the series.
- Now and Then, Here and There: Children are kidnapped from their home villages and forced to fight for the monstrously insane King Hamdo.
- Trigun has this as Wolfwood's backstory. At a young age he kills his abusive guardian who happens to be his uncle and soon gets adopted by an assassin, who teaches him the Bible, and how to kill.
- Berserk: Both Casca and Guts had to kill people in self-defense at a very young age as part of the backstory. In Guts' case, arguably twice; one was maybe more of a revenge thing, but given both that he was a kid and what the revenge was for, it could arguably still count as this.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica has its Magical Girl killing, not purifying, the Monster of the Week or losing their power before finally dying and turning into the very monsters they fought. There's no way around it the moment they made their contract. They also forced to fight and, implied in Puella Magi Kazumi Magica, to kill their rivals in turf wars or be killed themselves.
- Several characters in Attack on Titan feature this within their back story.
- Mikasa was kidnapped by a gang of slavers, and was forced to help Eren kill them in self-defense. She's never the same.
- Annie, Reiner, and Bertolt are the Tyke Bomb variant. Their mission required them to commit acts of mass murder, and all are shown to have suffered varying levels of trauma as a result. Reiner states they didn't even understand what they were doing at the time, and being allowed to go home is the one thing all three focus on to keep them going.
- Poor, poor Akari Taiyou. She is a Genki Girl who just wants to be like her mom, and certainly have powers to do it. It's just too bad that to help others, for her, it means killing Monster of the Week, which was possesed humans. Her first kill is her dear friend and cousin who lives together for years.
- Cassandra Cain, the third Batgirl, was trained to be this when she was younger. Subverted in that, after her first kill, she panicked and ran off, vowing never to take another life.
- In The Walking Dead, Carl's shooting saves the lives of both his parents within a day of each other.
"It's not the same as killing the dead ones…"
- Grimjack as a child was arrested for stealing and was sentenced to take part in gladitorial games
"Before I was nine, I killed my first man. Before I was sixteen, most of the kids I entered into the Wolfpac with were dead. Some I'd killed myself."
- Ender's Game is the epitome of Children Forced To Kill. All of the characters are prepubescent or slightly older Child Soldiers being trained to kill an invading alien force.
- Some beasts pulled into the fighting in the Redwall novels were quite young (as young as preteens - or younger). Some of whose reactions were understandable, while others were not.
- Saki's "The Easter Egg".
- Robert Muchamore's "Home" in which the protagonist is a very young guerilla soldier. After doing it he is nicknamed "Psycho".
- Another Muchamore series has the protagonist (This time a very young super spy) shoot someone and require counseling afterward.
- The whole plot of The Hunger Games books is that there's an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12–18 from each of the twelve districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle to the death until one winner remains.
- The premise of Battle Royale is that a group of 64-ish students are taken to an island and to kill each other until only one survives. Adding to the "forced" aspect is the fact that they're wearing explosive collars and if no one dies for twenty four hours, the guys in charge will kill everyone...
- The Tomorrow Series: Ellie and her friends didn't set out originally to be guerrillas...
- In the Dark Disciple Trilogy this is the most terrible facet of the Children of Chemosh. This otherwise Nigh Invulnerable version of The Undead created by Chemosh can only be destroyed if a child strikes them. The destruction of the creature is so horrifying that it also traumatizes the child and robs them of their youthful innocence forever.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, nine-year old Arya Stark has to do this more than once when she's thrust into a wartorn countryside. She moves from simple self-defense to pre-meditated murder, and eventually becomes the apprentice of a guild of assassins.
- Every one of the Animorphs at one time or another.
- Septimus Heap: In Queste, Septimus and Jenna are forced to throw the InHabited Toll-Man into the Abyss to escape from the Thing that is controlling his body.
- Done with downright creepy frequency and casualness in The Chronicles of Narnia.
- The 24 Made-for-TV Movie Redemption included some children being trained to kill by the followers of an African general.
- On LOST, Sayid got his start in murder by covering for his brother when forced to kill a chicken. Eko did the same thing, but with a person.
- In Criminal Minds episode "North Mammon" an UnSub kidnaps three girls and imprisons them in his basement cellar, he will let two of them go if they kill one of them.
- The guy in "Psychodrama" tried to force young boys to kill, or otherwise just attack, their mothers under threat of death.
- Supernatural: It turns out that a young Bobby Singer killed his abusive father while he was threatening his mother.
- The reason the fourth episode of Hannibal was yanked from broadcast was because the killer of the week brainwashed children into killing their families. Bryan Fuller felt that it was Too Soon after certain events.
- To a lesser extent in Kid Nation. The children end up having to kill chickens to feed themselves.
- In the world of The Last Of Us, 14 year old Ellie is forced kill not only Infected Humans but other humans too in self-defense. The Resort level particular has Ellie taking on an entire town of bandits by herself and killing their leader at the end.
- Example from, of all places, El Goonish Shive. Well, depending on your definition of 'child', but Susan and Nanase probably weren't much more than 12 when, during a class-trip to France, they wind up being targeted by a Somewhat Different Vampire. He's not technically human, but he LOOKS human - mostly - and while Nanase does most of the fighting, it's Susan who ends up having to kill him - with an axe, even. Unsurprisingly, she was traumatized, and the recent arc that featured the flashback culminated in an Immortal decrying the irresponsibility of the two french Immortals who originally equipped Nanase and Susan for the battle, while giving them no apparent alternative save dying at the hands of the vampire. Apparently, they could have simply informed the French Government's anti-supernatural-creature-squad instead, but elected to drag two pre-teens into a battle in order to 'recruit them for the fight against evil'.
- This is standard in the setting of Drowtales, where children as young as 10 are expected to be able to defend themselves if need be, and the straightest example is when Ariel, who at the time is the equivalent of a 7 year old human child, is forced to choose between killing Mir'kiin, an asshole who had tried to kill her, and fighting her cousin to the death. She chooses to kill Mir'kiin, and it's heavily implied this leaves her with PTSD.
- Survival of the Fittest: Even if you don't count the teenagers (who are usually 15-19) being forced to kill each other, there have been a few younger characters on the show as well, such as 12-year olds who did fit this.
- The subject matter of Madgie, what did you do? XIX:Mercenary and, as the description put it, no one is exempt from fighting, even the youngest must fight, as in if they can hold a weapon and know what it is, they can fight.
- One a side note, it's also been pointed out that Bunny was surprised that Doki (the one leading this group) was affectionate and maternal towards them and that they mean a lot to her, thus if she didn't have to, she wouldn't be putting them up to it but she has no choice and they have no choice either, as per the lines:
"In whatever war that is going on, I was surprised that Doki was very affectionate with them and it occurred to me that, due to what was going on, she didn't want to put them up to killing as so to defend their turf or themselves but it was not like she could take them anywhere else or hide them for very long. As it seemed in the case of Violetta, who was minus a leg, they would have to be damaged in sort of way if they were to be out of duty. Doki's affection towards them proved what no one thought, it proved that they were not expendable weapons and, that to her, they were precious and that, if she didn't have to, she wouldn't be making them do what they are doing."
- Parodied by Cracked, in an article consisting of a man apologizing to his neighbors for kidnapping their children and holding a Hunger Games-inspired event. He still thinks it was friggin' awesome, though.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender is set in a world at war, and since the protagonists are children, it's only natural that this trope gets discussed. At one point we see a group of displaced children who are willing to kill innocent civilians for revenge against the Fire Nation, as well as the protagonists fighting (and almost certainly killing) soldiers right and left.
- Aang, only 12 years old, absolutely hates this. He has nightmares about when his Avatar self went out-of-control, and is horrified at the thought of having to kill Fire Lord Ozai, as he believes all life is sacred.
- Even Aang can be seen to kill at least inadvertently, if you pay attention. Do you think all those soldiers he buried in snow in "The Northern Air Temple" just dug themselves out and ran away? How about the Fire Nation sailors who were putting the Northern Water Tribe under siege? You can't blame all of their deaths on Koizilla. And then you have the buzzardwasp from "The Desert". Aang makes the thing fall out of the sky and hit the ground with an audible thud, and it doesn't move again. That last one was teasing at a Moral Event Horizon that didn't come to pass.
- If you look even closer at that buzzardwasp, you can see its head detach from its body...
- In The Venture Bros., a clip from The Rusty Venture Show shows a young Rusty traumatically having to shoot a bad guy to save his father. Just one of the many little events that screwed up Rusty.
- He also briefly mentions being forced to kill a man using a house key at age ten. Played for pitch-black laughs.