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Child Soldiers
aka: Child Soldier

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Andre: I can see what you are thinking. But we need every man we can get.
Yuri: Even if they're not men?
Andre: A bullet from a 14-year-old is just as effective as one from a 40-year-old. Often more effective.

They depend on us to defend them, but either we're forcing them to defend us or they're all alone and forced to defend themselves in the face of imminent danger. Sometimes they have a talent to help them get through the war, which unfortunately may be the reason they were drafted to begin with, but often it's just tough luck. While the notion of innocent childhood dates to the early modern era (thank the Victorians and their contemporaries), even the ancients felt fairly queasy about the idea — and with good reason: warfare screws with kids' heads, and they're rarely good for much else afterwards. Since the use of child soldiers forces the enemy to gun down children in self-defense, it's a very strong contender for the most morally reprehensible war crime in existence. On a somewhat lighter side, there are also many stories, in fiction and real life, concerning boys (and girls) who lied about their ages in order to serve their country in its hour of need — but those are only slightly under age, much more mature psychologically.

This trope is great for an angsty backstory while at the same time excusing Improbable Age with prior experience. A staple of the shows which focus on violence but broadcast to kids, such as the more serious Mecha Shows. It's a good way to avoid Children Are Innocent, particularly if a kid creepily sees it as a game, but sometimes the loss of innocence is played for as much drama as can be.

In fiction, this also has the convenience of explaining why Persons of Mass Destruction are obeying their weaker bosses and not running things, or at least not demanding wages and better job conditions. It simply doesn't occur to them; and even if they do rebel, they don't know how to do it properly.

This trope blends imperceptibly with New Meat. Since even legal adults can be teenagers, old soldiers in particular may regard them as no more than children.

This trope is Truth in Television; many armies in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa have underaged troops, and some Western nations begin recruiting soldiers at the age of 16 (these recruits are generally prohibited from being deployed to combat zones, although incidents where they have been deployed there have occurred). Researchers have shown that even if these underage soldiers are not deployed to combat zones, they suffer from a higher risk of attempted suicide or mental issues.

Child soldiers in fiction can be divided into two types: those who fight and kill humans, and those who don't either because they fight a nonhuman entity (Strike Witches, Stellvia of the Universe) or avoid lethal means (Lyrical Nanoha). The former usually carry a heavy trauma, while the latter tend to avoid it. An even more significant dividing factor tends to be how often and how horribly they and their comrades are depicted as dying themselves.

Some Super Soldiers probably started out early enough to be counted as this. The Tyke-Bomb (of all varieties) is what happens when this trope backfires.

Compare Little Miss Badass, Creepy Child, Cute Bruiser, Enfante Terrible, Kid Samurai, New Meat, Young Gun, Recruit Teenagers with Attitude, and Teens Are Monsters. The Shell-Shocked Veteran may actually be a high-school senior. If you find yourself deploying child soldiers in your war, you may have been reduced to Lowered Recruiting Standards.

Contrast Falling into the Cockpit, which usually implies no former military experience. See Plucky Middie for the naval version. See also Raised by Orcs for cultures that use their enemies' children this way.

If only children get to be soldiers, then you have a Competence Zone on your hands. If it's because they're the only ones left, then you have a Teenage Wasteland on your hands.

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Examples of Precociously Talented Type:

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    Fan Works 
  • Colonel O'Neill, in The Secret Return of Alex Mack, isn't thrilled about the number of minors on the super-team he's assembled, but Terawatt is preventing huge numbers of deaths and untold property damage, and there just aren't any other stable non-villainous GC-161 cases with powers like hers. Hanna's abnormal childhood and genetic engineering mean that working to bring down villains might actually be the best thing for her mental health. Jack puts his foot down, though, with 8-year-old Shar, who wants to be included but isn't allowed to do more than try out her powers and measure what she can do. Though she doesn't always let a little thing like lack of permission stop her.

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology:
    • Achilles was trained as a soldier from childhood, and started going to war as a youth. By his teens, he was famous enough for his skills that he was sought for during the start of the Trojan War. A lot of Achilles' actions from The Iliad are more understandable if you know that he has been at war since before he even became an adult.
    • Heracles was also trained to fight from childhood. Exaggerated with the fact that he committed his first kill as a baby.
  • Celtic Mythology: Cuchulain achieved many martial feats while still in his youth, when he still went by birth name, Setana.

  • The Drunk and The Ugly: In Mrs. Friedas, the cherub project genetically engineered Nele and his siblings to be super-powered soldiers.

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech has a major character from the Clan Wars, Shin Yodama, who was planting mines in the earlier war of 3039 at the tender age of 14.
  • The premise of Bliss Stage is that the only people left who can fight the Alien Invasion are teenagers.
  • In the d20 Modern Sourcebook D20 Apocalypse, kids as young as 12 can be adventurers (explorers, scavengers, and other people who constantly brave the post apocalypse world). While they are not soldiers, given how hostile the post apocalypse world is, they might as well be. And the minimum age for law enforcement (vigilante, town militia...) is 15. Justified by the post apocalyptic setting, where people have to learn fast or die at the hand of raiders/mutated monsters/other.
  • This crops up in Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution. Psionic powers often manifest in adolescence and young adulthood, but can occur in childhood. Just because you’re 7, it doesn’t mean you’re too young to join, be press-ganged, or sold into a conspiracy.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The citizens of the planet Cadia are trained from birth for combat, mainly because their planet is parked right outside a Negative Space Wedgie that leads straight to hell, and frequently spews forth the Legions of Hell. The birth rate and recruitment rate is the same thing. Their soldiers enter combat as part of the youth army, the "Whiteshields," at age 13. They only get promoted to the full army by earning a medal. And they are badass. A common saying is that any Cadian who can't field-strip his own lasgun by the age of ten was born on the wrong planet.
    • Catachans' homeworld is basically "if Australia was a jungle" in terms of Everything Trying to Kill You, and three quarters of the children don't even make it to adulthood. Those who do? The Catachan Devils are armies made entirely of Ramboes if they'd been cast in Predator.
    • Stormtroopers, Commissars and Sisters of Battle are trained in military orphanages from very early age. While they usually don't see combat until graduation, their training includes shooting at live targets, usually at convicts.
    • Space Marines, due to the requirements of their implants, are inducted into the chapter at around the onset of puberty, and the entry requirements make sure they must be well-versed in the act of war before they're even considered. Their transformation into full-fledged Space Marines isn't complete by the time they're seeing battle as part of the chapter's Scout Company. That said, said Scouts are usually in their early thirties by then.
    • As in so many other things, Space Wolves are the exception. They take in valorous young men on the brink of death, usually in their twenties (leading the population of their planet Fenris to see their order as a Warrior Heaven in itself, but that is neither here nor there). Although we're never given figures on the success rate, the wisdom of this is uncertain; when Leman Russ was found by the Emperor, his associates all volunteered to become Space Marines, and over half died from implant rejection. On the other hand, few of them were young in any way, and several were downright elderly.
  • Warhammer Fantasy:

    Video Games 
  • What's a young girl in a pretty pink dress doing as one of the top three generals in Chrono Cross? At least you can say the other kids making up the party weren't inducted into the army, what with growing up in the streets as a thief, swinging an oar, fishing, or being abandoned in the woods at 3 with only an axe and the highest strength score in the game to survive.
  • Some of the backstory for the Crusader games indicates that the Silencer Corps (of whom the main character was a member) prospects are identified through mandatory testing on adolescents. It's also hinted that it's no so much physical prowess they're looking for as it is psychological suitability...
  • Fallout 3: While not exactly soldiers, the children who live in Little Lamplight are all well-armed little nutjobs. You can even sell them guns, ammo, drugs, and thermonuclear devices.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • In Final Fantasy VII, no one in the game seems to consider the idea of a 13-year-old Cloud Strife joining the Shinra Army unusual (Zack Fair also joined in at a similarly young age). And then there are people like Sephiroth, Yuffie, Shelke and Cissnei who started their fighting careers as mere children, although not through any choice of their own.
    • The SeeD in Final Fantasy VIII functions as a highly regarded military academy-type institution and many students enter voluntarily. Students are enrolled before puberty, but typically aren't taught in combat until their teens, and don't see actual combat outside of the training room until their graduation. Upon graduation, the SeeD sometimes also work side jobs in policing duties and receive a regular salary. The in-game encyclopedia outright states that any Garden student who doesn't graduate by the age of twenty is discharged from the school. The underlying function of the SeeD is to be prepared to defend the world against an imprisoned evil sorcerer.
    • In Final Fantasy IX, we have Eiko, a White Mage girl who can use Summon Magic. She happens to be 6-years-old and is the Sole Survivor of her tribe, apart from a bunch of Moogles, who keep her company. She is also Wise Beyond Her Years and not only understands the complexity of the world-threatening conflict when Zidane and his friends meet her but willingly joins them to Save the World. The rest of the cast, while not nearly as young as Eiko, are also mostly teenagers and overall Final Fantasy IX has the youngest cast on average of any main game in the series.
  • Fire Emblem has a few child characters, mostly thieves, mages in training (and a few full-fledged mages), and exiled royalty (often The Hero), or Manaketes who are Really 700 Years Old. Older ones around 16-17 are very common.
    • The youngest lord is Roy of Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, who was put in charge of an army initially consisting mainly of members who look barely older than him at age 15.
    • For units in general it is taken to extremes by Nah of Fire Emblem: Awakening, who, considering Manakete aging, must be around the physical age of an early elementary schooler at most (but still has the maturity of someone much older).
    • Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 has 12-year-old Sara, a Child Prodigy who happens to be the only one who can wield the Kia staff and undo the Loptr Church's petrification
    • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance has 12-year-old Rolf, an apprentice archer who really has no business being on the battlefield at that age.
    • Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn also has Empress Sanaki, who is 13 years old.
    • There are also the kids in the prologue of Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, who are 8-11, but the villain Slayde starts that fight and the general strategy for that map is to have them hide behind Cool Old Guy Mycen while he takes care of the dirty work - because they're children who can be easily killed.
    • In Fire Emblem Engage, while the ages of the characters are never specified in-game, Jean, Clanne and Framme look no older than their early teens. Hortensia, second princess of Elusia, seems slightly older, but she's one of the younger characters. She was studying at Elusia's academy, along with her friends Rosado and Goldmary when the Fell Dragon awakened and they were called to war. Datamining puts most of them in their mid-teens to mid-twenties, with Anna being 11 and Jean being 10, making the latter the youngest playable character in the series. On a gameplay level, this is somewhat deconstructed - as these characters tend to have low build & health stats. This means that they get slowed down by heavier weapons and can't take many hits before dying. The characters who're in their late teens who can are ones who've trained for much longer.
  • In the original Freedom Force, both Liberty Lad and Sea Urchin are Child Soldiers themselves. There's a scene in which Man O' War feels uneasy about "putting the wee ones on the front line".
  • Galaxy Angel has four of the six Moon Angels fall under this trope during the first trilogy: Milfie and Chitose are both 17, with Mint one year behind them; Vanilla is 13. Ranpha is exactly 18; Forte is 22.
    • Vanilla doesn't grow out of it when the second trilogy Galaxy Angel II starts, the only one to fall short as she's 17 by that point. She's still older than the Rune Angels' confirmed trope qualifiers Anise (16), Milfie's little sister Rico (14), and Natsume (11); it's unknown if her adoptive daughter Nano counts as well, as Nano's true age is unknown.
  • Klee from Genshin Impact is already a frontline member of the Knights of Favonius despite appearing to be a young child. This is partially so the Knights can look after her while her parents aren't around and partially to make sure Klee doesn't accidentally destroy Mondstadt.
    While other Mondstadt children her age are still playing with regular toys, Klee's favorite toys are... live explosives.
  • Niko Bellic, the main protagonist in Grand Theft Auto IV was about 16- or 17-years-old when he and fourteen other child soldiers from his home village fought in the Bosnian war.
  • Halo:
    • The Master Chief and his fellow Spartans started their grueling military training at age six, and have been kicking Covenant rear since they were fourteen. Their skills and reputation are such that the Covenant calls them "demons."
    • Halo: Ghosts of Onyx goes even further, with the SPARTAN-III program, which turned children into suicide super-soldiers who went off to fight and die at around the age of twelve.
  • I Was a Teenage Exocolonist: Growing up, Vace was raised aboard a military ship under strict instructions to arrest anyone alive at its destination. Thanks to his early training, he also gets promoted to lieutenant during the swearing-in ceremony while Sol and Anemone are promoted to officers despite only being three years younger than him.
  • Destroyers in KanColle are typically drawn as middle-school-aged children, though some exceptions exist.
  • Ikari Warrior's member Whip from The King of Fighters is only 16. She was also a Tyke Bomb, separated from her brother K. Heidern really enjoys recruiting young girls for some reason.
  • League of Legends has no real restrictions on membership beyond the ability to kick enormous amounts of ass, so you can have children fighting amongst adult archangels, insane wizard Yordles, and people who've been in the military for years.
    • Annie, who is 6-years-old and fights clutching her teddy bear in one hand... and occasionally turning it into a flaming giant to destroy her enemies.
    • Nunu, a boy whose strong magical abilities are enhanced physically by riding into battle on the back of a Yeti.
    • Amumu, an amnesiac child Mummy.
    • Lux, older than the rest, but still a magically gifted child forcibly conscripted at 13-years-old.
    • Kog'Maw, who's still an infant, but because he's an infant Eldritch Abomination who destroys everything in his path, no one minds.
    • While she's grown up now, Riven's backstory indicates that she was a fanatical child soldier for Noxus.
  • The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel:
    • Fie Claussell was the adopted daughter of a mercenary general, grew up in his corps as it deployed from war zone to war zone, and was a veteran member by the time it disbanded on her father's death.
    • In the third game, as part of Thors's increased focus on militarization, students from the branch campus are regularly deployed in counter-terrorism operations against subversive elements in The Empire.
  • The various Links in The Legend of Zelda with confirmed ages range in age from seventeen and a half (in Skyward Sword) to nine (Child Link in Ocarina of Time). Special mention also goes the Link from Breath of the Wild, who was already a soldier at the age of four and ended up becoming Childhood Friends with several Zoras while stationed near Zora's Domain.
  • Mass Effect 2:
    • Grunt is a tank-born krogan who is and acts like a child... by krogan standards. His major issue is that he is not only clanless but his "father" was hated by many krogan. In his case he's technically only a few days/weeks old in Mass Effect 2, but has the body of a krogan in late adolescence and had memories and knowledge downloaded into his brain.
    • Quarians in the Mass Effect universe are frequently involved in combat before and during their Pilgrimage (their rite of passage into adulthood).
    • Thane mentions training as an assassin since the age of six, with his first kill taking place when he was twelve.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Frank Jaeger a.k.a. Null a.k.a. Gray Fox a.k.a. the Cyborg Ninja. Although his exact age is unknown, he fought in the Mozambican War of Independence around the age of 7 or so. Armed only with a knife, he got his name by his method of killing: he deceived the enemy with "the frankness of a young boy" and moved in for the close kill. He was known as the 'Frank Hunter,' which became 'Frank Jaeger' because he could speak a little German. During the events of Portable Ops, his chronologically first appearance, Frank was still only a teenager when subjected to sensory deprivation treatment in order to make him the emotionless 'Perfect Soldier,' Null.
    • Raiden became a child soldier in the Liberian Civil War thanks to Solidus, receiving the nicknames of "White Devil" and "Jack the Ripper". Having a combat rifle at age six, he became captain of a unit of child soldiers ("the Small Boy Unit") at age ten. Similarly, Solidus himself was also heavily implied to be in his teens when he participated in the war.
    • Metal Gear Solid, the novelization, the Official Missions Handbook, and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker also heavily imply that Solid and Liquid Snake were raised within the military from a very young age, at least since two years of age, in fact.
  • In Sabres of Infinity the Tierran army's minimum enlistment age for officers is 14, making the protagonist one if they so choose.
  • Sakura Wars: Nearly all of the members of the different combat Divisions shown in the series are, at the oldest, in their mid-to-late teens or early twenties, with Maria Tachibana being an established veteran of the Russian Civil War at only 19, and Leni Milchstrasse being part of a German Super-Soldier project from a very young age. Iris, Coquelicot, and Rika/Rosita however, take the cake, being only ten or eleven.
  • The World Annihilation Front of Sands of Destruction is composed largely of teenagers, and certain members of the World Salvation Committee are no older. On the Front side, there's Morte at 16 and Kyrie at 17; Agan is 18, Taupy has a Vague Age but is implied to be older than most of his teammates, and Rhi'a is 300 but as a dragonkin is the equivalent of 15. On the Committee side, Naja is 17 and his commander Rajiv appears to be about the same (but is never given an exact age). The leaders of both groups are shown to be adults, however.
  • Shantae: Risky's Revenge: After the second Magic Seal, Scuttle Town is under new management, and the yellow -dressed little girl in the second layer has thoughts about it, and what she guesses will happen to child education:
    We are now a military town? If they start training us kids to be deadly assassins, I'm going to use my power to combat the evil that has taken a stranglehold on the town.
  • Although the whole World War Two-themed Silent Storm cast is adult in the year when the game is set (1943), several of them have this in their background, usually in the form of "joined X army while being 15/16/17". Some of them actually saw combat when underaged (the German Reggie was recruited in the beginning of World War One when he was 15, after lying about his age), some other not (Gunnar entered the Wehrmacht at 16, in 1933). The straightest example is Carm (an Italian woman), who took part in World War One as a mountain guide for Italian troops when she was pre-teen, and ended to kill a dozen of men during the course of the war (in the actual game, she is in her late thirties).
  • The story mode in Splatoon involves the 14-year-old protagonist fighting singlehandedly against the enemy Octarian army. This carries over to the player characters in subsequent Splatoon games. The enemy Octolings are only a little bit older, with Agent 8 in Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion being about the same age as the other protagonists. Cuttlefish's dossier on Marina in Octo Expansion suggests a military education is the norm in Octarian society.
  • One of the enemy types in Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage! are bird chicks who are soldiers.
  • Bowser's army in Super Mario Bros. features multiple young Koopas, including the Koopalings, Koopa Kids, and Bowser's own son Bowser Jr.
  • Super Robot Wars: Original Generation:
    • Latooni, Seolla, Arado are Tykebombs, while Princess Shine is a princess who isn't technically enlisted, and is simply allowed to fight alongside the other heroes to protect her Kingdom.
    • Also, Mihiro Ardygun in Super Robot Wars W, who co-pilots the Valhawk with her older brother (himself 16) at the age of 10. During the Time Skip, while her brother was missing, she took over piloting duties full-time. Though not a soldier officially, she does fight on behalf of a government organization that does include several soldiers, including the aforementioned child soldiers from Gundam Wing and Full Metal Panic!.
  • Zig-Zagged in Tales of the Abyss. We have Tear who was trained by Legretta and was given military-grade training from a young age. It shows, but she has a sensitive side too. (And an urge to act like a young girl like thinking it'd be so fun to be hugged by Anise's giant plush animal.) We also have Sync who is only 14-years-old, is a candidate for That One Boss and falls into the dramatic side given his backstory. One of Sync's comrades, Arietta, also falls into the Alas, Poor Villain types, since she can't be any older than 16 yet was trusted by the Daathic Government to act as a bodyguard for Sync. Her successor, Anise, is only thirteen, is blackmailed into being The Mole because of her parents being hugely in debt, and clearly had to grow up fast a bit. Oh, and the other god general who's underage by our standards? Asch the Bloody who is 17... and had clearly been in the Daathic Army for years beforehand. Luke also marches into battle when he's only 17 as well, but consider that He's actually much much younger than that!
  • Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World gives us Alice, one of the main antagonists who's part of a terrorist organization at only 18. (She's Older Than She Looks though - due to being a half elf) Marta, too, who is only 15-years-old.
  • Both Takatoshi Hijiyama and Keitaro Miura from 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. They joined the military to serve in World War II while they were still in high school, though Takatoshi enrolled voluntarily while Keitaro was drafted.
  • In Valkyria Chronicles, Gallia has a policy of Universal Conscription, so military training is a part of general education and citizens as young as fifteen may be called up to serve. Moreover, the militia is known to have soldiers as young as twelve, although the girl in question enlisted voluntarily and required special permission to do so. Even worse, the little girl is a shocktrooper, the most durable and most damaging troop type in the game.
  • Momo Kuzuryu from Valkyrie Drive -Bhikkhuni- was one of these before the events of the game and the struggle of adapting to a more peaceful life is the driving point of her character arc.
  • This is the case when 14-year-old Leo Stenbuck fell into the cockpit of Jehuty in Zone of the Enders, but continued to fight of his own free will as a part of the military afterwards, and is only 16 in the sequel.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • Most Huntsmen go through years of combat training beginning in prep schools that feed into the four elite Huntsman Academies. The entrance age for the Academies is 17 years old, although this can be waived for exceptionally talented individuals like Ruby, who is pushed ahead by two years and enters Beacon Academy at the age of 15. The Academies are four-year courses, leading to them graduating into the dangerous career in adulthood. However, after the Big Bad attacks Beacon Academy in Volume 3, the heroes decide to travel Remnant, seeking to learn more about the villains. This puts them into the role of Huntsmen while still children, years before they're meant to graduate. Once they reach Atlas, General Ironwood honours their precociousness by granting them their full Huntsman licenses, despite most of the heroes only being 19 and Ruby 17.
    • Oscar is a Farm Boy who thinks he's pretty ordinary until he learns he's The Chosen One at the age of 14. This forces him to travel to Mistral and join up with the heroes to fight the villains. He's forced to learn how to fight on the road, although his prodigious talent and unique circumstances means he develops his skills unnaturally fast. Being two years younger than Ruby means he's the baby of the bunch. As the current host of the reincarnating warrior-wizard Ozma and Salem's eternal nemesis, Oscar has inherited a divine mission to save the world, but his lack of prior training and Oz being so traumatised and exhausted from millennia fighting an Invincible Villain means that the leader of the opposition to Salem is actually Ruby.
    • Atlas Academy pressurises its students to join the kingdom's military as Special Operatives once they graduate, creating elite, officer-level super-soldiers. When Salem unleashes her army on Altas in Volume 8 and breaches the defences, a war of attrition begins that forces Ironwood to put the academy students on the front lines of battle. In Volume 2, Ironwood asked Ozpin if he thought his kids could fight a war as a way of criticising him; however, beyond Ironwood's hearing, Ozpin confessed he was hoping the kids would never have to fight a war, while Ironwood drafts the kids to war in Volume 8 without a second thought.

  • Karcharoth of 'Cry 'Havoc' was conscripted at the age of six, and has been fighting in one army or another for fifteen years. Understandably he has a rather distorted view of life. He was recruited due to his minor, but growing, psychic powers.
  • Benjamin Soderer in Lost Cause joins the Confederate Army at 16-years-old, thinking it will prove his own bravery at such a young age. However, it only proves how unready he is to face the Hells of war.
  • Cloud's mother in Sandra and Woo, Ye Thuza Williams, was a child soldier in Burma. As a result, she tends to teach her children how to employ violence as necessary with mixed results.
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, the army age recruitment standards seem to have greatly dropped:
    • First are the Hotakainens, who moved to Keuruu military base and joined the army eleven years before the start of the story. At the time, eldest Onni would have had to be sixteen, his younger sister Tuuri ten and their cousin Lalli eight.
    • A flashback involving Lalli confirms he was already scouting a horribly mutated Plague Zombie ridden wilderness at night at thirteen. The flashback relates an incident during which Lalli improperly filling out an anonymous scout report caused another group of soldiers to venture into a dangerous area and four of them to get killed, which the doctor considers a low number given the attack's violence. Looking at the report causes some authority figure to decide that "all scouts younger than fifteen" are getting a lecture on proper report filling. A 15-year-old Tuuri is seen among the desk workers.
    • The Cleansers, a Demolitions Expert unit working with high grade explosives, has two fine print elements on their recruitment poster: one telling people they need to be at least thirteen to join, the other saying that joining voids all life insurance. It can be seen here.
  • All of the superheros and supervillans in Strong Female Protagonist received their powers at 14 and have been fighting each other or for their government for most of their teenage years. The main character is a retired super-heroine who is struggling to find ways to solve the world's problems without resorting to the violence of her formative years.
  • The title character in Terinu was raised by Space Pirate Mavra Chan to be an assassin, starting at the tender age of nine. His best friend Matt was sold by his own father to Chan to serve as a cook's mate on the same ship at the age of eleven. It's a sufficiently Crapsack World that in Matt's case this was distinct improvement over his previous situation.
  • Unsounded: the Platinum caste of Alderode has an exceptionally strong connection to the Background Magic Field and only live to age 30 or so, so preteen Child Mage divisions are common in the Aldish army. Official dogma is that they're exceptionally holy and are on their final Reincarnation before rejoining the Gods; the nastier unspoken attitude is that they're more expendable than the longer-lived castes.

    Web Originals 
  • Done with a complete lack of angst in Magical Girl Hunters. The protagonists stop to comment a few times on how horrible it is for children to be taught to fight at an early age. Usually right before putting a bullet between their eyes.
  • Sirene from the forum RP Open Blue is a highly militarised country that drafts children as young as 12 for a four-year service, with the exception of children qualified for technical schooling instead. Not even royals are exempt.
  • Pirates SMP:
    • It's stated that pirates have to be aged 15 and up to be able to join a faction. While most of the cast are ostensibly adults by the time the series takes place — the youngest with a confirmed age being Kuervo at age 19, a handful of characters (usually legacy pirates themselves) either joined up very close to (if not outright at) the lower limit or were straight-up raised into piracy and trained from a young age.
    • Even then, Kuervo himself plays the example straighter than usual, being an established soldier in the Nayan Armada at age 16 years before the events of the SMP, and is shown to be a very good shot with a handgun. He ends up deserting after being caught committing mass Tyrannicide and sent on the run, culminating into his arrival on the Faction Isles.
  • The youngest Protectors of the Plot Continuum are about 13 years old when they start in the field. The youngest agent ever, Ella Darcy, was ten when she joined, but she wasn't a field agent.
  • The Lambsbridge Gang in Twig begins the story as a group of kids barely into the double digits, with the implication that they've been acting as a wetwork team for the Academy of Evil for several years already.
  • Welcome to Night Vale has 13-year-old Tamika Flynn, leading a child militia against Strex Corp. She's already a veteran at this, having taking down the librarians at twelve.
    Tamika: We do not look around. We do not look inside. We do not sleep. Our god is not a smiling god, and we are ready for this war.

    Western Animation 
  • Played for Laughs in American Dad! when Stan gives Steve an AK-47 for Christmas despite promising Francine he wouldn't (he got around it by wishing Steve a "Merry Wednesday" instead). Steve is uncertain at first, then states that if "coked out child soldiers in the Congo can do it", he can, too. Unfortunately, it leads to him accidentally killing Santa, who comes back to life and swears a blood oath against the Smiths, forcing them to spend Christmas Eve fighting for their lives. Despite having sworn off guns after shooting Santa, he picks it back up during Santas attack, and immediately turns out to be almost as good as his CIA agent father.
  • The plot of Avatar: The Last Airbender? A group of kids and teenagers take down the Fire Nation army.
    • Many of the main antagonists (though not the Big Bad) are also teenagers.
  • In Ben 10: Omniverse, the Amalgam Kids that first showed up in Alien Force are revealed to be products of experimentation by a rogue branch of Plumbers called The Rooters, and were created for the purpose of destroying Ben, then inflicted with Laser-Guided Amnesia when their attempt to take him out failed.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: the KND are a global organisation with, amongst other things: a moonbase, orbital cannons, spaceships, military vehicles, Humongous Mecha, lasers, a giant flying convention center and huge "hidden" bases that recruit kids at around 5- to 7-years-old, train them and kick them out when they're thirteen, wiping their memory just in case they go rogue. They are an army of child soldiers. The only reason this isn't presented as horrifying at all is because they are every bit as childish as non-members (if not more). Executing a huge, global operation to fill in the Grand Canyon as a giant cereal bowl, anyone?
  • Dutch's younger brother Dar in Motorcity, who works for Kane Co. He looks up to and respects Abraham Kane. He pretty goes through the same experience Mike did in "Vendetta".
  • Alien broccoli have invaded Townsville, so The Powerpuff Girls, led by Blossom, install an army of children to fight the alien menace — by eating them (episode "Beat Your Greens").
  • The Daughters of Aku from Samurai Jack absolutely qualify, having been trained from toddlerhood to be extremely capable fighters and ruthless assassins. At the age of 17 to 18, approximately, they are definitely very precocious, and the nature of their training puts them squarely in the middle of "just plain tragic" as well. Being the literal Daughters of Aku does much to explain their precociousness.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
    • Jedi Padawans such as Ahsoka Tano could very much be considered this. Ahsoka is only fourteen at the beginning of the series and yet leads troops into battle and gets into the thick of the fighting herself. Their talent with the Force and training from childhood makes even the Padawans very deadly warriors. However, Ahsoka is an outlier as she was a Teen Genius while the majority of Padawans enter the field in their late teens or early adulthood.
    • When Kamino comes under attack, the clone cadets take up arms to defend their home. Thanks to their accelerated growth, they're about half as young as they look. (This also means the mature clone soldiers are actually only about 10-years-old.)
  • Episode 8 of Sym-Bionic Titan had The Academy on Galaluna, a military training facility which starts training future soldiers as children. To be fair, however, it is partially Truth In Television: most of them are teenagers, and military schools do exist for such ages. However, they also showed a row of children who looked even shorter, and, presumably, younger than Lance and Arthur — who were already small and really young-looking to begin with.
  • Similar to above, the Teen Titans (2003). In the comics most of them eventually grow up quickly enough to avert this for most people, but the main gang in the cartoons doesn't. They almost die on several occasions, have no adult supervision, and the youngest is between the ages of fourteen and sixteen. Notably, during the penultimate episode's Grand Finale battle, dozens of other young supers join the Titans in their fight, including the three superpowered toddlers whom Raven had previously babysat. Mas y Menos, twin supers who appeared in several episodes, were about 11.
  • In the original ThunderCats, the Thunderkittens are apparently about twelve, or their species' equivalent, but they go into combat just as much as the adults. Lion-O is a borderline case, since he begins the series physically adult, but mentally a child.
  • Occasionally implied in the Transformers metaseries with the younger-minded characters. Done outright in Transformers: Animated with Sari especially after she turns out to be a Robot Girl and is pushed into the front lines in Season 3.
    • The episode "Human Error" (where the main 'bots are shown in analogous human bodies) shows that Bumblebee is the Cybertronian equivalent of roughly her age.
    • Omega Supreme might also count, given that he was specifically created to be a superweapon and purposefully made mentally 'slow' so that he wouldn't question orders. Not a child, but close to a child's mind.
      • The Transformers in Animated have an explicit childhood stage. He was a child soldier given mild mental retardation and put into the body of what was effectively a Kaiju, and the actions of his creators made it clear that they knew what this would do to him, and how wrong their actions were.
    • Transformers: Prime's version of Bumblebee may also be considered this. The prequel novels state outright that he was among the final generation of Cybertronians to be born, and while fighting on the front lines is not given any explicit significance for him, the episode "Masters and Students" hints that he's not officially recognized as warrior-class due to being too young, though a later episode would have him admit he was holding off until they fixed Cybertron.
    • The human characters are very much this. Jack performs the important mission of recharging the Matrix from Vector Sigma, Raf is Mission Control backup to Ratchet (and is one of only two main humans in the series to be actually wounded), and Miko is considered (by herself and Wheeljack) to be a full member of the Wreckers, not to mention having a confirmed kill to her name (Hardshell). At the end of the series, Agent Fowler intends to make them full-fledged members of Unit: E.
      June Darby: Consultants! Until you're of age.
  • Three of the Paladins from Voltron: Legendary Defender are teenage pseudo-Military School studentsnote , while a fourth was a peer who got kicked out due to discipline issues. To be fair to the alien princess that shanghaied them into war against a galaxy-spanning evil empire, Allura did not have any real option at the time. Not to mention All There in the Manual confirming that the peer who got kicked out for discipline issues was already 18 at the start of the series.
  • Winx Club:
    • Red Fountain is a paramilitary school that trains boys to be Badass Normal soldiers on their home planets starting at 16. Military schools for high school age children are Truth In Television, but Red Fountain functions a lot more like an actual military force than like a school — the Specialists undertake various combat missions (not drills or educational exercises) regularly.
    • Brandon is this trope twice over, as in addition to being a Red Fountain student he is Prince Sky's squire (implied to be more of a bodyguard than the typical valet definition) and because he and Sky knew one another before starting school, he was at most 15 when he became another 15-year-old's pseudo-bodyguard.
  • W.I.T.C.H.:
    • Caleb is the leader of the rebellion at 15-years-old.
    • W.I.T.C.H. themselves, with Will celebrating her thirteenth birthday in an early episode and Hay Lin being the youngest at twelve (presumably). It probably helps they get Elemental Powers as well as an Older Alter Ego when they transform. Will's boyfriend Matt begins to train as a a warrior in Season 2, though this is his choice and Will is not happy about it. Some of Caleb's troops in Season 1 look even younger than him, but they're still effective in ambushes and combat.
  • Young Justice (2010):
    • This gets lampshaded when the team is the black ops for the Justice League, where the oldest of them is 16 and the youngest is 13. An exasperated Mr. Twister brings this up after he curb stomps them when Robin protests that they aren't children.
      "Objectively, you are. Have you no adult supervision? I find your presence here quite disturbing."
    • Later discussed in the episode "Agendas". With the League discovering that Captain Marvel is only ten, they begin debating whether to boot him out of the Justice League. Batman says he knew all along, and it has no impact.
      Wonder Woman: I shouldn't be surprised, since you indoctrinated Robin into crime-fighting at the ripe old age of nine.
      Batman: Robin needed to help bring the man who murdered his family to justice.
      Wonder Woman: So he could turn out like you?
      Batman: So that he wouldn't.
    • By Season 2, the story has started to edge into the "tragic" sub-category, as the child heroes have to confront the death and trauma that comes from their job.

    Real Life 
  • Ancient Sparta is one of the most infamous examples, with boys as young as 7 entering a formalized and brutal training system known as agoge. Although actual combat duties didn’t start until years later, this arguably produced the toughest soldiers in the Greek world.
  • Audie Murphy enlisted in the US Army at the age of 17. By the time he established himself as one of the most decorated soldier of World War 2 he wasn't even old enough to vote.
  • Calvin Graham, one of the many underage enlistees who served in World War II and became a bit of a celebrity figure in his time (and underage enlistees were often made to run extra miles and lug extra loads in the Training from Hell). Unfortunately, due to the US government policy he was not able to get veteran benefits. Despite that, his ship, the South Dakota, was one of the most feared ships in the Pacific Front.
  • Galusha Pennypacker of Pennsylvania was a 16-year-old sergeant in 1861, a 17-year-old major months later — and twenty when promoted to Brigadier General in 1865 (he was instrumental in the capture of Fort Fisher and was also awarded the Medal of Honor). He was still too young to vote at the time.note 
  • John Lincoln Clem (born John Joseph Klem) ran away from home to join the Union army at age nine. Both recruiters he saw rejected him for obvious reasons but he tagged along with the 22nd Michigan anyway and made himself useful so the 22nd eventually sort of adopted him as a mascot and drummer boy, with officers chipping in to pay him a soldier's wage of $13 per month. He was allowed to enlist officially two years later. He served at the Battle of Chickamauga, where he is said to have ridden an artillery caisson to the front and wielded a musket trimmed to his size. In the course of a Union retreat, he shot a Confederate colonel who had demanded his surrender (although there is some debate as to the accuracy of this story), and was later promoted to sergeant, making him the youngest non-commissioned officer in the US army. In October 1863, Clem was captured in Georgia by Confederate cavalry while detailed as a train guard. The Confederate soldiers confiscated his uniform which reportedly upset him terribly—including his cap which had three bullet holes in it. He was included in a prisoner exchange a short time later, but the Confederate newspapers used his age and celebrity status to show "what sore straits the Yankees are driven, when they have to send their babes out to fight us." After participating with the Army of the Cumberland in many other battles, serving as a mounted orderly, he was discharged in September 1864. Clem was wounded in combat twice during the war. After his discharge he went back to school, graduated high school in 1870, and re-joined the army the following year. He stayed in the army until he retired at the age of sixty-four.
  • The Middle Ages: The training of a knight usually began at the age of seven (7), and it was claimed after twelve, the boy is fit only for a priest. When a young nobleboy turned 14, he was expected to serve his master on the battlefield as a squire. Around age 20, he would serve as a full-fledged man-at-arms. It's noteworthy, though, that while training did begin at seven, the first years were generally spent under the tutelage of the wife of the knight the boy would eventually serve, where the boy was taught things such as proper etiquette and conduct, chess, music and other societal skills. They weren't expected to actually fight in battle until reaching squirehood unless the fight came to them, for the practical reason that most children that age wouldn't have the strength to make a meaningful contribution in the battle line anyway.
    • Most feudal systems with a warrior-aristocrat caste, such as Japan's samurai and India's rajputs were raised in a similar manner.
  • Several conquering kings (or wannabe conquerors/kings) were merely boys when they led their armies into war. Examples include Alexander the Great of Macedonia, Charles XII of Sweden, Edward, the Black Prince, of England, Olaf the Holy and his younger brother Harald Hardrada, and many others.
  • Patrick Finn enlisted in the United States Marine Corps Reserve in 1947 on a 3 year enlistment at 15 years old by fudging his age, although he did not see any combat until he was over 18 since World War II had just concluded. He re-enlisted when his initial enlistment ended due to having worn out his uniform and was unable to pay the $92 fee to have it replaced. Shortly after his re-enlistment, The Korean War broke out and he was deployed there in November 1950 and fought in the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. By age 19 he was a veteran of one of the most brutal battles of the entire war, and was evacuated to Hawaii for medical treatment and spent the remainder of the war on military police duty there. He tells his story here.

Examples of Just Plain Tragic Type:


    Tabletop Games 
  • The game "Broken Rooms" has a world called 'The Unvisible' which has been invaded by monsters that are invisible — and cause severe psychic trauma — to adults. Only certain adults can see the monsters, so the average age for soldiers is 8-12. Big Science has designed assault weapons with low kickback and painted them in neon colors to appeal to the children, who are trained in combat tactics from the time they can walk.
  • The Battlefront Miniatures game Flamesof War includes the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitlerjugend" whose average enlisted soldier was 17 or younger and drawn from the ranks of the Hitler Youth, hence the nickname. The game also depicts child soldiers in the ranks of the Hitler Youth during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, armed (as they were in real life) with Panzerfaust anti-tank rockets.
  • The RPG Grey Ranks depicts child soldiers (aged 15-17) during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
  • Turns up several times in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, particularly in the supporting materials. The defence of Hive Hellsreach during the Second Battle for Armageddon is one of the more poignant examples.
    Evacuees will be restricted to those below the age of seven (plus one parent/guardian) and those above the age of ninety. Regrettably, there are not enough places for everyone, so each person eligible for evacuation will be assigned a number. [...] If you are not eligible for evacuation you will be immediately assigned to a hive defence unit — details of where to report will follow this announcement.

  • Les Misérables features Gavroche, who tags along with the student revolutionaries (who are themselves implied in several songs to be at most in their early 20s) and manages to take 2 bullets while collecting ammunition for the students before he is fatally shot in the head.
  • The Wole Soyinka play Travel Club and Boy Soldier is about a military coup in an unspecified third-world nation, and the "Commandant" who's leading the whole thing is, well, the titular boy soldier. He's a teenager when the takeover happens, but he's been in the army for years by that point.

    Video Games 
  • Booker from BioShock Infinite fought in the battle of Wounded Knee despite being only 16 at the time. Worst still, since he was a corporal by that point, he must have joined the army several years earlier at minimum. The horrors of participating in the massacre would influence Booker greatly in his adult years, turning him into an alcoholic thug in the best possible timeline and a genocidal zealot in the worst.
  • In Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway it is implied that Frankie is under 18. He dies.
  • Some Angolan child soldiers appear during the first level of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, being trained by Cubans to fight in the civil war against the American-allied UNITA. Mercifully, they only appear in scripted sequences and you don't fight them.
  • Dragon Age: The Antivan Crows prefer to recruit orphans for training, though it is unclear whether they are actually employed in assassinations. In any case, many of them die during training, and those that make it out alive are usually completely detached from their emotions or conventional morality.
  • Drakengard features a few missions where the enemy soldiers are child conscripts. Naturally, Caim, being the murderous nutcase that he is, viciously slaughters them all, much to the dismay of his more level-headed comrades. On the other hand, Caim's dragon bond-creature doesn't seem to care.
    Angelus: Soldiers are soldiers!
    • Particularly the pedophile, though the child-eating cannibal is pretty ecstatic at the fresh food. One of your comrades is an eternal child forced to do a lot of killing, including his own sister, and who is ultimately forced to make a Heroic Sacrifice that doesn't even kill him, but leaves him stranded alone in a timeless void incapable of even achieving the peace of death. It's safe to say Drakengard revels in this trope, especially when the Abominations show up.
    • In the game is a mission where most of the foes are the normal faceless adults you've been used to fighting throughout the game, except for a small squad of child conscripts. You can ignore them easily enough, but if you want one of the unlockable weapons during this mission, you have to hunt them down. And since getting all the endings in Drakengard requires every single weapon, you're forced to do this.
  • Fallout: New Vegas:
    • You can talk to a Retired NCR Ranger with a broken leg in Novac. If you ask him why his leg is broken, he'll say that it was because the Legion sent children as suicide bombers against him and his squad, knowing they'd hesitate to shoot.
    • If you go to the Legion fort, you can find little boys training to be full-on legionaries. It's horrifically implied that those children are expected to enter combat very soon, what with the battle against the NCR over Hoover Dam on the horizon. Keep in mind that, in the NCR, troopers can sign up to join the active military at 16, and they still consider Legion troops abnormally young. Chief Hanlon says that any legionary who survives 10 years is considered an exceptional veteran, as many, many die long before then ("life expectancy isn't long in the Legion; you live ten years in Caesar's army, you're a force to be reckoned with"). That means that many of the lower-ranking recruit legionaries you gun down in droves probably aren't very old at all.
    • In Fallout 4, as you're walking around The Prydwen, the flagship of Elder Maxson's chapter of The Brotherhood of Steel, you might happen upon some Squires — children (although you only encounter young boys in this case) who are training to become high-ranking officers once they become older. They spout the typical propaganda, tell you how much they want to make Elder Maxson proud, the whole nine yards. Although they're not yet allowed to go on dangerous missions along with the adults, they are involved in labor and field operations. Danse, who (at least before the quest Blind Betrayal) is probably the most diehard loyalist on the ship, admits that he doesn't like the idea of young kids, who can't be older than twelve at the most just by looking at them, engaging in warfare like this, but what Maxson says goes. If you align yourself with The Institute or The Railroad, one of your biggest missions is to blow up The Prydwen out of the sky, thereby erasing The Brotherhood's base of operations and taking out many enemy combatants to your cause — and unfortunately, since you have no way of evacuating anyone off beforehand, that means the kids die too.
  • Fear & Hunger: Termina: Levi was conscripted into the army when he was just 13, and was once sent on a Suicide Mission commanding soldiers even younger than him. The whole mess has caused him to become a traumatized Addled Addict.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Since Celes Chere from Final Fantasy VI has the rank of general at age of 18, it is safe to say that this trope applies to her.
    • Final Fantasy VIII is a deconstruction of this trope. Despite being rather quirky, all of the protagonists except one are members of an elite fighting force trained from the age of 5, and also have their childhood memories erased by the special equipment they use in combat. Early on, it's made quite clear that inexperience and youthfulness significantly screw up their jobs and lives. Seifer breaks the commander's orders and later betrays everybody out of pure ego; Quistis suddenly feels sorry for yelling at Rinoa and abandons her post; Irvine suddenly becomes doubtful of his sniper skill (he's actually more caught up over the idea of assassinating his adoptive mother); Selphie breaks down crying from the destruction of her old school; and Squall, while the most professional, is pretty much the Troubled, but Cute trope incarnated. There's also Zell, who is easily set off by being insulted and who often has trouble keeping his mouth shut, letting key info slip.
    • In Final Fantasy Type-0 the Power Crystal of the Fiefdom of Rubrum only grants the power of magic to the young and as the population ages, their skill with magic wanes. The protagonists are teenage students of a combination Wizarding School and Military Academy that is drafted to fight in the war.
    • In Dissidia Final Fantasy 012: Duodecim, Vaan, possibly in reference to the orphaned friends he had in his own youth in the slums of Rabanastre, views the fact that the young Onion Knight is also part of the Conflict of the Gods as being a tragedy (despite the fact that the latter is very capable of holding his own, to the point that everyone else on the team ignores his age and sees him as a worthy peer), and so ends up inadvertently patronizing him for his youth. Onion Knight desperately wishes that Vaan would treat him as someone worthy of respect until he realizes that it is Vaan's way of doing just that: Vaan never tries to stop him from fighting, after all.
  • Fire Emblem games usually play this for drama. The younger members often have some tragic backstory that forces them into war.
    • A few examples: Amelia, Ross, and Franz from Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones all have a Missing Mom. The latter two suffer from varying degrees of Disappeared Dad. Amelia's mom was kidnapped by bandits, whatever that may lead to (though, if you support Amelia with Duessel, we learn that her mom got better). Ross's mom got sick and died, and his father, who had left them to join the army, retired to raise his son. Franz's mother got sick and died as well, his father, a knight, died fighting bandits. We also have Colm and Neimi. Neimi was raised by her grandfather, and when he died, Colm was the only other person she had. Naturally, those two are the fastest support in the game, usually able to get to A level by the 8th chapter.
    • Fire Emblem: Three Houses has students of the Officers' Academy of Fodlan, some as young as 15, being taken into combat to fight against bandits and other threats as part of their training. Sothis, who's uncomfortable with this, grants Byleth the ability to turn back time in order to protect their students. Dimitri and Felix were around 15 when they suppressed a rebellion in their kingdom two years prior to the start of the game, and neither one is in good mental health afterwards, as Felix has become dour and obsessed with becoming stronger following the death of his brother prior to the rebellion, while Dimitri is struggling to keep his own sanity and ultimately fails (unless the player goes on the Azure Moon route, in which case his sanity can be at least partially salvaged).
  • F.E.A.R. has psychic commmando Paxton Fettel, as well as the player character, the Point Man. Though grown by the events of the game, both were trained from birth. Fettel in particular killed people when he was only ten, though not in combat, and it wasn't entirely his fault...
    • The psychological and emotional ramifications are explored in third game. Essentially, they're both scared children running from something far more powerful than them and either becoming obsessed with that (or similar) power or lashing out mindlessly in fear.
    • The Point Man was entered into stasis at around 16, and taken out and trained when he was physically in his late 20s. It's hinted (but never made clear) that he might still be a child mentally.
  • The main playable cast of Fuga: Melodies of Steel are self-inflicted versions of this. With the Berman Imperial Army's invasion of their home and abduction of their families for forced labor, the kids turn to commandeering a mysterious giant tank known as the Taranis for a chance at getting them back. While the kids do happen to be competent and resolute enough to qualify for the precociously talented type, the game's War Is Hell theming highlights how they can still get hurt and depressed as a result of this constant fighting, along with how the game infamously has a mechanic where one of them can be sacrificed to the Soul Cannon to ensure that the rest survive.
    • One of the children, Britz, is an example of this twice over, having been conscripted into the Berman Army at a young age following his father's execution for treason. After doing some grunt work for the army for a few years (and likely witnessing first-hand the atrocities they committed), Britz ends up defecting from them through helping a prisoner— Sheena, another one of the playable children— escape from being subjected to cruel experimentation.
    • Lore revelations in the second game all but state that the Taranis was intentionally designed to make use of child soldiers as its crew. Crusade, the organization that created the Taranis and Belenos thousands of years before, also created many hybrid children to act as pilots for them— and so intent were they on using these hybrids that the Soul Cannon itself can only be powered by a child's life force. All of these hybrids barring one lucky survivor either died from Crusade's constant experiments or were outright killed on the battlefield. That lucky survivor, Jihl, was then promptly forced upon the Taranis for his usefulness as a renewable source of Soul Cannon energy. He didn't take it well.
  • The Spartan-II and III Super Soldiers from the Halo series started as this. The IIs were abducted from their homes by the shady Office of Naval Intelligence and replaced by flash clones, who would begin to break down shortly afterwards, neatly covering ONI's tracks. The IIIs on the other hand were orphans of war that were actually recruited by ONI with the promise of avenging their families. The Spartan-Is, formerly known as the Orion Project, and the Spartan-IVs were consenting adults with prior service history in the UNSC, however.
    • The worst part about the Spartan-IIs was that they weren't even engineered to fight the Covenant, but rather Human Insurrectionists. The Covenant just so happened to show up shortly before the Spartan-IIs first received their iconic MJOLNIR powered armor. Knowing this, its not hard to understand why ONI never intended for the very existence of the Spartans to go public in the first place.
  • In Iji, some of the logbooks imply that the Tasen draft soldiers as soon as they're old enough to hold a rifle. The diary writing Tasen soldier and her girlfriend are among those. This is somewhat justified since the Komato have hunted the Tasen to the brink of extinction. While the titular character's younger brother is, at most, a teenager, he doesn't qualify because he is simply Mission Control.
  • Emotionless Girl Leona from The King of Fighters started this way, after killing her own parents under Goenitz's More than Mind Control and being adopted by Colonel Badass Heidern, who had lost his daughter and wife.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Subtly implied to be the case if Shepard has the Colonist Background. We are never given the details precisely of how they survived the Batarian raid on Mindoir on their 16th birthday, which wiped out their entire family. Judging from other first-hand descriptions, the raid is implied to have been a bloodbath, meaning that it's very likely that Shepard had to pick up a weapon and do a lot of growing up that day.
    • Turians are said to have a life cycle similar to humans' but are also known to conscript every able-bodied young person into the military at only fifteen years of age. The psychological ramifications of subjecting teenagers to military life and warfare en masse are left unexplored (but maybe that explains Garrus and Saren). Though it is worth noting that not only does outright warfare happen rarely and that the Turians work more like a militarized police for most of the galaxy, its mentioned that Turians are militarized on such a cultural level that prior to their unification the populations of captured cities were moved out of the city itself and into camps because otherwise there would be such rebellion that the city would be effectively burned down by the populace. Conscription of teens who are probably raised to think of it as a rite of passage into the space police is a little different than most child soldiers.
  • Metal Gear:
    • The Beauty & Beast Corps that Snake fights in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots are all child soldiers who were horribly traumatized in their childhood. For example, Laughing Octopus was forced to laugh while she killed people, despite the fact that she found it horrifying, and so she cackles like a hyena all through her boss battle. At the end, she confesses, "I'm not really laughing..."
    • Big Boss's final plan, outlined in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake, was to rescue war orphans and train them as soldiers, then feed them onto the battlefield to perpetuate an endless cycle of warfare.
    • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain has the player actually battle child soldiers at select points, although killing one will result in an instant Non-Standard Game Over and one very angry Miller. One mission has Snake come face to face with a group of child soldiers he had been contracted to kill, but instead fakes their deaths and takes them back to Mother Base. Only then Snake intend to have them trained as his own soldiers instead. Thankfully Miller and Ocelot are having none of that, with Miller making it clear how largely unable they are to fight before stating that they'll educate the kids and give them a chance to live normal lives.
      Kaz: We've expanded our housing. They'll have their own quarters. Separate from ours, won't be counted as staff.
      Snake: So what, we're running a daycare now?
      Kaz: They'll learn how to read and write; do basic jobs.
      Snake: A chance at a real life... just not from behind a gun.
      Kaz: Being behind a gun is what we do, Boss. There's no room for angels in our heaven.
      • The Phantom Pain has two key characters, in particular, who are child soldiers. The first is Tretij Rebenok, a child with terrifying preternatural abilities; and "Eli", the "White Mamba" and leader of a group of child soldiers in the Congo. They would go on to become Psycho Mantis and Liquid Snake, respectively. Both also have some major mental baggage that prevented them from being well-adjusted: Tretij burned down his hometown when his telepathic powers revealed his father's loathing towards him, while Eli suffers from Clone Angst due to being born of the Les Effants Terribles project.
    • Taken to a new frightening level in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. One of Desperado's long-running plans is the abduction of children in various war zones, installing their brains into artificial casings, and running AI programs ad infinitum to make them into killing machines. The brains are utterly terrified of their state, and one is even seen undulating in terror when Sundowner pulls it out and strokes it.
      • During the fight with Monsoon, we see the extent of Raiden's psychological destruction at being a killing machine for so long. Just as it seems Raiden is suffering a Heroic BSoD, he suddenly notes that he has felt a natural high from the killing. Suddenly, Monsoon realizes his speech has had the complete opposite effect he hoped for, and for the remainder of the battle, Raiden gains unlimited Ripper Mode.
  • Rengoku: A flashback in the second game tells that Captain Gram was wiping blood during the Machine War when a normal kid would play with toys, and was considered a veteran at a very young age.
  • Suikoden II is the ur-example of this trope in Eastern RPGs. The story begins with two friends who, during military training in a youth brigade, are attacked by their own country's forces dressed up as a neighboring nation's units, just to justify going to war with that nation. Many child soldiers such as Pohl are even killed (in his case, run through by Luca Blight). Your childhood friend Nanami even tries on more than one occasion to get the protagonist to abandon the war, saying that they're just kids and they have no place in a war. Agreeing to run away with her leads into one of the most emotional scenes in the game, which is no small feat.
  • Suikoden V has Nether Gate; among their many, many atrocities is how they raise children to become career assassins. The player meets several members; some managed to escape its influence and have spent years recovering. Others... haven't.
  • Temtem is essentially Pokémon with a hint of Darker and Edgier, which the Kisiwa arc hammers in hard. The Belsoto Clan invades the island of Kisiwa, creating a refugee crisis as the native Temtem tamers try to hold them off and evacuate their families at the same time with many of them being the same age or not much older than the teenage player, who also gets conscripted by La Résistance upon their arrival. It's stated that human and mon casualties are mounting on both sides, including The Rival Max, who joined the opposite side and is seemingly killed by General X for trying to desert.
  • In the Trails Series, it's mentioned that some Jaeger Corps will start taking the children of existing members onto the battlefield as young as age nine. While this is never shown directly, there are three characters who were this in their background who at least somewhat grew up before entering the story: Randy (who is traumatized by his former mercenary life), Shirley (who is a crazy Blood Knight), and Fie (who never speaks much about her life as a mercenary, but is rather undersocialized and at a loss as to what to do with herself after the Corps let her go after her father's death).
  • Tyranny has a notable defiance of this trope: The Scarlet Chorus, a Social Darwinist Army of Thieves and Whores that forcibly conscripts anyone it captures into itself and turns them into Slave Mooks sent to die en masse, has amongst its very, very few actual rules one to "Honour and Guard the Young". Any child captured by the Chorus is safe from serving in combat or being exposed to their usual modus operandi until they reach the age of sixteen. Of course, since the Chorus either conscripted or killed their hometown, parents and support network, orphans created by the Chorus tend to become involuntary camp followers for the Chorus anyway, and by the time they're sixteen they've usually seen enough crap living with the Chorus that they're either a perfect fit for Chorus volunteers or ready to join the frontlines to end it all.
  • Warframe: This is heavily implied to be the true nature of the Tenno. Apparently they were kids who ended up gaining strange powers due to a void jump accident. What makes it worse? As is revealed in The Second Dream, they are still children, as they've been kept in stasis inside the moon. The most horrifying part? Originally, the Orokin were planning on killing them for existing, and executed the Tenno's surrogate mother, Margulis, when she spoke out against this. The only reason they are still alive is because Ballas, an Orokin executor and Margulis' lover, managed to convince them that the Tenno could still be useful to them.
  • All citizens of the Keves and Agnus nations of Xenoblade Chronicles 3 are initially formed with the bodies of ten-year-olds, and spend the entirety of their ten-year lifespans training for and engaging in war with one another. Those who are able to survive the full decade are honoured with returning their essences to their respective Queens, while those who die before that threshold need to be manually sent on by Off-Seers. The protagonists are given the revelation that this is not a natural way of living, however, and, over the course of the game, can help to liberate both nations' colonies of the need to continue with it.

    Visual Novels 

  • In El Goonish Shive, after a monster attacked Susan in Paris, two Immortals empowered her and Nanase, and instructed how to kill it. Later, in the Hammerchlorians storyline, it was revealed that these Immortals could have very easily gone to an experienced local magic-user instead. Susan... didn't take it well.
  • In Katusha, Girl Soldier of the Great Patriotic War, the title character is a 16-year-old Ukrainian girl in Kiev and has just graduated high school in 1941 when Germany launches Operation Barbarossa. After the Germans roll through Kiev, she ends up joining a band of partisans, along with her classmate Zhenya (also 16), her foster sister Milla (age uncertain), and her younger brother Vadim (age 15). Within a few months, all of them become quite handy with weapons and adept at killing. By 1945, Katusha is serving in the Soviet Army, commanding a T-34 tank.
  • Kill Six Billion Demons: Jagganoth served as a child soldier in a "Corpse Legion" of mercenaries during the Universal War. Word of God (and Mottom from an in-universe perspective) is that Jagganoth suffers from PTSD from the experience, and the chapters of the "Tale of Yaun" which are implied to be Jagganoth's earliest experiences in the Corpse Legion are nothing short of horrific.
  • Ruby's World uses this as the base of the conflict; the villains regularly use third world children as material for their cybernetic super-soldiers, and several of the young heroes have this blood-stained technology in their bodies.
  • Cloud's mom, Ye Thuza, from Sandra and Woo was a Burmese rebel when she was only 16. While it hasn't been explored in much detail yet, it's certainly demonstrated a touch more seriously than the overall tone of the comic, apart from being half of a punchline in which Ye Thuza remarks she's "always been a rebel" while comparing her life as an American housewife to her years in Burma.
  • Sarilho: Mikhail and Nikita were sold into the military as kids.
  • Sleepless Domain: The Magical Girls that fight monsters every night are little more than this, since they have no chance to refuse the powers they get if they have the dream that grants them. Magical girls lose their powers if they reach age 18 and they are the only line of defense, as mundane weapons, including the almost conspicuously absent guns, do not work on the monsters. They do have the right to refuse to go on patrol (as Zoe is initially doing), but there is a stigma against magical girls who don't pull their own weight, and for some the incentives outweigh the risks. Including the risk of death, as what happened to Sylvia, Gwen, and Sally. Undine acknowledges how messed up it to make teenage girls fight for the city, but says Someone Has to Do It. Tessa (who lost her powers healing Undine) is showing signs of being a Shell-Shocked Veteran. Heartful Punch suggests that the M.G.S.I. covers up certain pieces of information such as what happens if a magical girl gets pregnant in order to downplay the 'child' part of this trope.
    HP: Foundationists aren't the only ones who want to pretend we're these perfect warriors. The idea that we're just as flawed as anyone else... I don't think they like that. Because then we don't exist just to fight and die for them.
  • Paranatural: It's not given a lot of focus, but Isabel is a twelve year-old spectral who regularly fights monsters on levels equaling or surpassing the adults in her grandfather's dojo. Technically all of the kids count, but Isabel is far and ahead the leader, and has been undergoing Training from Hell since she was at least six. Her dad split from the family in protest over this (but notably didn't actually take Isabel with him...) and her mother is clearly uncomfortable with it but also too busy to really make a fight of it.

    Web Originals 
  • In Brave New World Universe the fact that the Chosen, many of whom are young teens, were picked by strange forces to fight a war they don't understand hasn't really been brought up yet.
    • In the side story Ride The Whirlwind, the main character Ricki, and her former boyfriend Al, who are both 15-years-old, are working with a group that defends the Chosen against any threat frequently using murder to get their way. Ricki has had a mental breakdown trying to get another character to kill her in a fight. Al has begun self harm, scraping his tongue until it bleeds trying to get the taste of other peoples blood out of his mouth.
  • Deviant: While mostly averted by official organizations, many characters in the story are teenagers and arguably more like soldiers than heroes. Vanquish is the biggest example of this trope, a 16-year-old mercenary who can turn invisible.
  • Dream SMP: In spite of the Vague Age issues with the characters, if we are going by the ages of the content-creators, three of them have participated in warfare of some sort at age 16-17.
    • Purpled fought in the Manburg-Pogtopia War at age 17, though he, specifically, crosses over into Type 1 as well for his combat skill and mercenary work.
    • Tommy and Tubbo fought in the L'Manburg War for Independencenote , the Manburg-Pogtopia War, and the Doomsday War afterward, mainly at age 16 (though Tubbo had turned 17 by the Doomsday War).
  • The children in The Innocent. Justified, as the war is between children and adults. The children end up winning the war. The reason for the war to happen in the first place is that the children are forced to work by the adults, and the children want to set themselves free from the adults.
  • In Madgie, what did you? XIX, the children aren't given much of a choice in whether or not they want to but it is put that they have to fight. That, and their guardians, the ones that lead them, have would't put them up to it if they didn't have to.
  • While Welcome to Night Vale's Tamika Flynn is also justifiably listed under the 'ridiculously talented' heading, she and her fellow soldiers also come under 'tragic' in episode 46, "Parade Day", where they rebel against Strexcorp but get exactly no help from the adults, leading to them all being captured.

    Western Animation 
  • Back to the Future had a story where Doc Brown's son Verne go to The American Civil War and find themselves recruited as a Confederate Army drummer boy. As he is being trained by another boy, Jimmy, he is told that they are positioned in the front lines in the line of fire:
    Jules: But we're just kids!
    Jimmy: [Bleakly] War makes you go up fast.
  • Played straight, then parodied in Family Guy, when Peter and his father-in-law Carter visit Africa (due to Carter attempting to retrieve the money he lost in a Nigerian Prince Scam). They come across a village that's being held hostage by a brutal warlord, who says he's going to pressgang all the boy children as child soldiers. Peter is understandably horrified, until the warlord starts using "hamburger" as a punchline after everything he says, like standup comedian Alonzo "Hamburger" Jones, which makes Peter forget the monstrousness of what he's witnessing.
  • Justice League: In an alternate timeline where the Nazis won World War II, Batman is the leader of an underground resistance. The majority of his soldiers are noticeably smaller than him and appear to be children or teens, including alternate versions of Tim Drake and Cassandra Cain. Besides Batman himself, the only ones who are definitely adults are Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon, who are in their early twenties at the oldest and have likely been fighting with him for years.
  • Munro is a satirical animated short, based on a story by Jules Feiffer, about a 4-year-old boy who receives a draft notice and gets inducted into the U.S. Army, much to his distress.
  • In the Season 5 finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, of all shows, the Crystal Empire Bad Future has foals being recruited for the war against Sombra.
  • Hunter the Golden Guard from The Owl House is a highly trained soldier raised in a militaristic cult, and serves as The Dragon to Emperor Belos at just 16 years old. Being Belos's nephew, having no other surviving family, and believing that he doesn't have a future outside of the Emperor's Coven due to his lack of magic, Hunter was drafted into scout training at a very young age, isolated from the outside world, and Conditioned to Accept Horror (among other things, he fondly recalls being dropped on the top of a mountain with a bunch of other trainees and seeing who would make it to the bottom alive). This, on top of being subjected to parentification, gaslighting and regular physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Belos, has left Hunter's emotional and social growth horribly stunted. Underneath the veneer of haughtiness, he's a kind, creative, and deeply anxious boy who just wants to be a normal teenager, but never got the chance to be until he got trapped in the human realm in Season 3. Made even worse after the reveal that Hunter is actually the latest in a long line of Grimwalkers, Expendable Clones created specifically to be the Golden Guard and discarded as soon as they show the slightest signs of disloyalty or disobedience.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars has counterparts of the Phineas and Ferb characters working for both the Rebellion and the Empire. While the implications aren't explored for Candace, Buford and Baljeet as Stormtroopers, it's played straight for the Firestar Girls, the equivalent of the Fireside Girls.
    Gretchen: We need you, the odds are stacked against us. The Empire has everything, a Death Star, highly-trained troops, Darth Vader. And we're just a ragtag bunch of undertrained good-intentioned Rebels. And to be perfectly honest, Isabella, we're kids. We are actual children, and they're letting us fly fighters. That's how hopeless the situation actually is.
  • The Daughters of Aku from Samurai Jack absolutely qualify; at the age of 17 to 18, approximately, they're sent out to kill the title character, having learned from their mother and her cult literally nothing but athletics, stealth, combat skills, and presumably the worship of Aku. Being Aku's actual daughters also puts them into the "precocious" category.
  • In Star Wars Rebels, the Empire has a training program that recruits teenagers to be trained into new Stormtroopers, and subjected to a harsh training regiment. The dark part however is that the trainers report any recruits who are suspected as force sensitive to the Inquisitors, and whatever happens to them is unknown.

    Real Life 
  • A disturbing number of conflicts in Real Life have drawn children into them. Worse, it still happens, especially with the more renegade military forces of the world. Even by historical standards children who should have been considered far too young for service have throughout history been forced into real combat situations.
  • The NGO War Child estimates that there are 250,000 child soldiers in the world today.
  • The CIA world factbook's "Manpower fit for military service" starts at age 16. International Law requires that conscription can't start until age 18note .
  • Resistance movements often feature child soldiers, given that the adults fit for military service have for the most part been killed, captured, or otherwise neutralized by the invading army. During the Armenian Genocide the Armenian Boy Scouts as an organization saw signficant combat action (although they were officially utilized in support roles such as hospital staff). Polish scouts and other children fought in all three major battles of Warsaw during WWII.
    • Two of the most famous child soldiers are twins Johnny and Luther Htoo, who founded the Karen rebel group "God's Army" in Myanmar when they were nine.
  • At least a third of the Union Army in the American Civil War (as many as a million troops) were seventeen or younger. Boys as young as thirteen fought in combat (especially under the Confederacy), as opposed to drummer boys who were technically noncombatants.
  • The Virginia Military Institute corps of cadets, some no older than fourteen, fought at the Battle of New Market in 1864. Of 264 present, ten were killed and 42 wounded.
  • In the days of black powder and line infantry, drummer boys, many only 11-years-old, some younger, stood in the front rank, armed only with their musical instruments as the men around them fought.
    • The 'musics' who survived the battle also doubled as stretcher-bearers, carrying the wounded to the filthy and disease-ridden field hospitals, where amputation and cauterization without anesthesia were often the only treatment available to the wounded. Although not normally a combat role, it was most certainly a traumatic one.
    • In those same days there were also powder monkeys, boys of the same age who transported gun powder on ships.
    • The British Army ended the practice of sending pre-pubescent boys into battle after the slaughter of Isandlwana in 1879 when the boys were not only killed but their bodies desecrated — like those of their elder comrades in arms.
  • The Germans recruited young boys as "Flak-Helfer" during the second World War, assistant AA crews, who didn't see much combat and if they did it consisted of shooting at specs in the sky. They alternated between going to school and helping with AA guns until they were 18, at which point they could join the ranks. Being properly trained in etiquette, ranks and all the other boring stuff, they usually made for very fine soldiers during training, had high morale and little reason to object to orders.
    • And then there was the Volkssturm...every male who could hold a rifle was drafted. Regardless of age. There was an ironic nickname for the Volkssturm: "Gulash". Because it consisted of old meat and fresh vegetables...
    • The last filmed footage of Adolf Hitler show him awarding Iron Crosses to child soldiers in the ruins of Berlin.
    • Speaking of Nazis, the 12th Waffen SS division "Hitlerjugend" was formed of teens from the Hitler Youth recruited into the SS directly. They were trained viciously, turning these darker boy scout equivalents into hardened soldiers. They were the only units in 1944 to be described as both "voluntary" and "enthusiastic".
  • The Italian Ragazzi del '99 ("Boys of 1899") that fought in World War I: after the devastating defeat at Caporetto, the Italian army restored its numerical superiority by drafting the boys born in 1899, that at the time (1917-1918) were 17-years-old. This is openly acknowledged as a desperation move, and these child soldiers are still honoured by having streets, squares, parks and (allegedly) the 99 Flake ice cream named after them.
    • The Ragazzi del '99 and the other Italian soldiers first drafted during World War I are an example of the Italian commander-in-chief Luigi Cadorna trying to correct the inadequate equipment of the Italian Army with a combination of superior numbers and training: the boys were drafted months before their eighteenth birthday, but spent the time between the draft and their eighteenth birthday training in the new trench warfare, reaching the front with superior skills than the new drafts of the Austro-Hungarian Army. After Caporetto, however, every soldier had to be sent to the frontline, resulting in Cadorna ordering to immediately deploy the almost three hundred thousands already trained while the rest of them was drafted. It was Cadorna's last order before being removed, and allowed the Italians to regroup and fight back, their first combat experience being reinforcing the First and Fourth Armies on the Grappa Massif and the northern course of the Piave river to stop the Austro-Hungarian and German offensive.
  • Imperial Russia had the cantonists, who were the children of the soldiers; in 1827, Nicholas 1st decided Jews and other minorities should be subjected to draft, starting to 12, so as to make them good Russian Orthodoxs; they would be sent in cantonists' batallions, where they would be subjected to brutal training and forced conversion until their 18, when their 25 years term of service would begin.
  • The Soviets also utilized children during the Second World War, with some of them becoming affectionally called "Sons of the Regiment". While they are mostly errand boys, a few children served as reconnaissance. One such soldier, named Sergei Aleshkov, six or eight years of age, was an example: he lost his family during a German anti-partisan raid, and was forced to flee into the forest until Soviet soldiers found him starving and half-dead. The commander of the unit decided to take him in and adopt him as his own son, believing he would be better fed and clothed with his unit. Sergei was even present in the Battle of Stalingrad was wounded by shrapnel; later in the war, he saved the regimental commander and his adoptive father from the rubble. After the war, Aleshkov was sent to a cadet school and became a lawyer later in life.
  • Janissaries were drafted from Christian children by the Ottoman Empire. There were exceptions however, since adult war prisoners could be inducted into the corps such as Skanderbeg (who was 18-years-old when he joined them), but children were preferred because their loyalty easily assured than adults (considering that Skanderbeg deserted the Ottomans and became a thorn on their side for years, they might had a point). By the time of their disbandment, they were not even slaves anymore, but a bloated and corrupt institution passed down in a hereditary manner that undermined the empire by killing or deposing any sultan that threatened their status.
  • The subject of A Long Way Gone: Memoirs Of A Boy Soldier, by Ishmael Beah. Beah was forced to join a military war at the age of 13, after his village was destroyed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.
  • 'Black Jack' Jean Schramme, a mercenary active in the Congo wars of The '60s, believed the best age for a soldier was thirteen to fifteen, because they obeyed orders more readily. Whenever he wanted more 'recruits', he just pulled up his truck at a local school and invited the children for a joyride.
  • Tragically the case during the War of the Triple Alliance. Near the end of what had been a Hopeless War for Paraguay, Francisco López (the ruler of Paraguay and something of a Glory Seeker) had children as young as nine dragged into the army, as well as elderly men and wounded soldiers who were in no condition to be fighting. Most of these children were killed during the Battle of Acosta Ñu. As a side note, this is a war where so many of Paraguay's male population died (95% by some estimates) at the end that it resulted in a bona-fide population crisis (it was so bad the Roman Catholic Church lifted its ban on polygamy) and the nation nearly ceased to exist altogether.
  • Fairly common on the Iranian (and Iraqi) side during the Iran–Iraq War, where teenagers as young as 14 were enlisted into the Army to partake in human wave attacks. Some critics to the Iranian government suggest that they were given "Plastic Keys"note  and sent straight into minefields, but some Iranian veterans and historians discredit this claim to be Iraqi propaganda. Regardless, many young soldiers died within the conflict, with the average age of Iranian soldiers being 23.
    • One particular story circulated during the war was the suicide of a 14-year-old Iranian soldier who attempted to repel an Iraqi tank column with a grenade belt — which like many other stories, were used by the government to rally counter-attacks against the invading iraqis.

Alternative Title(s): Child Soldier



Despite being a little girl, she can instantly kill enemy soldiers at first sight.

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Main / LittleMissBadass

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