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Children as Pawns

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"You get down there and find the big diamond or you will never see that teddy again!"
There are many differences between children and adults. They have different life experiences, different mindsets, different body types, different perceptions from others, and different understandings of the world around them, just to name a few.

Those differences can be exploited by others, both good and bad, for various purposes.

There are a number of ways in which this trope can manifest, ranging from mundane and harmless to risky and dangerous. A character can arrange meetings between their own children and those of someone who is part of their objective, in order to create an avenue of access to their place, or babysitting kids in order to gain the trust of their parent or guardian. These methods can also be used as a means of defending oneself by having an enemy's children plead with their parent not to hurt their friend's parent or their favorite babysitter, or in order to divert the suspicions of people watching them. This is especially appropriate when an enemy exhibits Villainous Parental Instinct, as it means their child can be used against them.

Children can also be placed in hazardous situations as part of a plan. A character can bait a villain into going after a child to invoke Knight Templar Parent from a key individual, or they can use children as bait to lure the parents into a trap. There are times where exploiting Wouldn't Hurt a Child involves using children as Human Shields. Even Abusive Parents can raise kids for the sole purpose of using them in a long-term scheme of some sort. (Even if said scheme is using them as Trophy Children.)

Having characters make use of this trope can paint them in different ways depending on what their means and end goals are. Placing children in danger to further an agenda or gather information can be common among villains, as doing so paints them as characters who Would Hurt a Child, and it's rare for such characters to have any sympathy from audiences unless the characters actively try to minimize the risks and/or the children understand the risks and are willing to confront those risks. On the other hand, if the child's intended role doesn't go any further than enabling an adult character access to information or places that shouldn't endanger the child directly, it's easier for heroic characters to make use of this trope, especially if the goal is to rescue another child from some danger.

See also Tyke Bomb, in which a child is raised from birth (or close to it) to serve a villain. Compare Baker Street Regular, Little Miss Con Artist and Child Soldiers. Also compare The Fagin, a person who trains (usually orphaned) children to steal for them. See also The Baby Trap. Particularly impactful if Children Are Innocent.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Bungo Stray Dogs: During the Cannibalism arc, the ADA tries to circumvent Fyodor's plot by tracking down the Ability user who infected Fukuzawa and Mori. Ranpo figures out the culprit is Pushkin, and Kunikida and Atsushi pursue him. However, Pushkin escapes down a tunnel and has his young siblings armed with weapons to defend him. The detectives are able to get through until Kunikida is faced with a little girl prepared to detonate several grenades attached to her. He tries talking her down, but the attempt fails and she blows up herself and the other children. It turns out the man wasn't Pushkin and it was all a ruse set up by Fyodor to break Kunikida's spirit.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist (2003), when trying to get the location of Ed Elric, he had a young newspaper seller eavesdrop Ed at the railway station, promising this seller he would get his little sister back.
  • In Spy X Family, Agent Twilight's mission 'Operation Strix' requires him to adopt Anya in order to enroll her in Eden Academy. Definitely a sympathetic example, as Twilight quickly grows to care for Anya and goes out of his way to keep her safe and happy. That, and Anya is aware of everything and doesn't mind.

    Films — Animated 
  • Cinderella: Big Bad Lady Tremaine wants one of her daughters to marry the Prince so that she can gain more power and climb up the social ladder in one fell swoop. Downplayed, as both of them care more about getting her attention and mistreating their stepsister Cinderella.
  • Despicable Me: Gru adopts three little girls as part of his plan to steal back a Shrink Ray from Vector, since the latter likes the cookies they sell. Initially, Gru planned to ditch the girls after his larger scheme was done, but they begin to grow on him over the course of the film, and in the end he decides to keep them and becomes a loving parent to them (coinciding with him giving up on villainy).
  • The Rescuers: Madame Medusa kidnaps Penny so she can fetch her the Devil's Eye, a huge diamond inside an underground cave in the bayou, since only a small child like Penny can enter the opening to the cave.
  • In Rugrats in Paris, Coco LaBouche strives to be the new president of the Reptar Corporation when Mr. Yamaguchi announces his retirement and is looking for someone to be his successor. Wanting to make a good impression on him, she lies to him that she is about to marry a single father. Angelica overhears and decides to help her marry Chas so she will give her whatever she wants. Coco hates children, but pretends to care about Chas and Chuckie as part of her plan to get her promotion. However, on the day of the wedding, she is unable to keep up the act and has her assistant Jean-Claude take the babies away so they won't interfere; she even betrays Angelica by having her detained along with the babies. Fortunately, the kids manage to escape from Jean-Claude on the Robo Reptar, and a remorseful Angelica takes responsibility by exposing Coco's plan to Mr. Yamaguchi, who furiously fires Coco for her actions.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • American Sniper: While covering a patrol squad advancing along an Iraqi street, sniper Chris Kyle notices a woman and her child in a doorway, watching the American squad intently. The woman then issues the boy, about eight, a grenade to throw at the Americans. Despite personal misgivings, Kyle knows the rules of engagement: those wielding a firearm or ordnance are hostile combatants, and therefore a fair target. Kyle drops the boy before he can toss the grenade.
  • The Avengers (2012): Downplayed. Black Widow pays a little girl to lure Bruce Banner to a remote area so that she could recruit him to trace the Tesseract for S.H.I.E.L.D. without worrying about him Hulking Out in the middle of a populous area. She ends up referencing her own background as a Child Soldier, as part of the Black Widow program.
    Banner: And your actress buddy, is she a spy too? Do they start that young?
    Natasha: I did.
  • The Night of the Hunter: Both in the book and the movie, Harry Powell tries to throw Pearl against her older brother John in order to convince her to tell him where Pearl and John's executed father had concealed the money he stole from a bank. Or to use her as pawn to make John speak, whatever came first. He also flirts with Ruby to make the naive teenage girl tell him if John and Pearl were adopted by Rachel Cooper.
  • A heroic Human Shield version in Raiders of the Lost Ark, where Indy finds himself surrounded by armed Arabs in a Cairo bar. Sallah saves him by sending a group of children into the bar who swarm around Indy and lead him out of the place with the baddies unable to interfere. Watch the scene here.
  • Stargate: When Colonel O'Neill manages to seize a staff weapon and turn on Ra, he's unable to take the shot, because Ra has surrounded himself with children who worship him and would gladly die for him.

  • In Danny, the Champion of the World, a woman named Mrs. Clipstone smuggles the knocked-out, stolen pheasants ready to be killed in a baby carriage under her baby son's mattress to avoid suspicion.
  • DI Fawley: In The Whole Truth, Marina Wheeler is revealed to manipulate her ambiguously autistic son into claiming that he was sexually abused by his babysitters, her (male) Ph D students, in order to force them into a sexual relationship with her.
  • Gone Girl: The future that lies ahead for Nick and Amy's child. After being trapped by Amy's pregnancy, Nick agrees to stay with her, but after she threatens to push their child into accusing him of abuse, he understands that they both have a lifetime ahead of using the child (and how it's raised) against each other.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: Serena is in the habit of sporadically blackmailing Offred with access to her and Luke's young daughter, Hannah.
  • The Hunger Games
    • The entire premise of the series could be considered this, as the Capitol is placing children in a Deadly Game to remind all of the Districts how powerless they are.
    • In Mockingjay, President Snow places children in front of his office as a shield from the rebels trying to assassinate him.
  • In Les Misérables, Georges Pontmercy agreed to never see his son Marius again, in order to ensure he lives a good life, free of poverty.
  • This is pretty much the modus operandi of Mr. Ledroptha Curtain of the The Mysterious Benedict Society. He views children as nothing more than tools that he can use to broadcast the messages of his Whisperer, or serve as his Executives. Any children that try to act against him he claims to regard as gnats who can't do anything real against him though secretly he's scared.
  • Oliver Twist: Fagin kidnaps orphaned kids and trains them to pickpocket for him, keeping any money they make for himself. The popularity of the novel actually caused such people to start getting called "fagins", replacing the former term "kidsman" in some circles.
  • In the various versions of The Pledge, the retired detective befriends/marries a single mother before he decides to use her daughter to lure in an elusive child murderer he never caught. The murderer is killed in a random car accident on the way to the girl, which means it was All for Nothing. The mother also finds out and justifiably cuts all ties with the detective.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire
    • It's common practice for the winning side of a war or rebellion to take the children of the losers into their own homes, holding them as hostages against future bad behavior
    • After Cersei Lannister has Ned Stark wrongfully arrested for treason, she manipulates his 11-year-old daughter Sansa into writing a letter to the rest of their family denouncing her own father as a traitor and telling her older brother to swear fealty to Joffrey Baratheon.
    • Ramsay Snow burns down Winterfell and takes the two wards Big Walder and Little Walder Frey, both nine years old, back to the Dreadfort with him. He makes the boys write letters to their family claiming that Theon Greyjoy was the one who destroyed the castle to cover his tracks.
    • Arianne Martell intends to proclaim 8-year-old Myrcella Baratheon the rightful Queen of Westeros as pretext for staging a coup against her father, Doran Martell. She and her co-conspirators get caught and one of the conspirators attempts to kill Myrcella before fleeing. Arianne's genuine remorse over Myrcella's disfiguring injury establishes that while she's a schemer, there are lines she won't cross.
  • Warrior Cats: Ashfur used his apprentice, Birchpaw, to deliver the message about Firestar being in danger to Brambleclaw, as part of his and Hawkfrost's plan to goad him into killing Firestar. At the time of New Prophecy, this was one of the only clues as to Ashfur being Hawkfrost's accomplice at all.
  • Worlds of Power: The adaptation of Ninja Gaiden (NES) involves Foster sending in both Ryu Hayabusa and Irene Lew to retrieve the Demon Statues for him. The former is explicitly 13 years old, and the latter is around the same age as him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Varys uses children to spy on others. He calls them "the little birds". When he leaves King's Landing, Qyburn takes over his network of child spies.
    • On the day of Queen Cersei's trial, a child lures acolyte Lancel Lannister to a dark area underneath the Grand Sept of Baelor and stabs him in the back, leaving him paralyzed and helpless to watch as a candle burns down on a puddle of liquid next to barrels full of super-combustible wildfire, making them explode and blow away the sept and surrounding areas to kingdom come.
  • The Handmaid's Tale:
    • Serena is even more in the habit of blackmailing June with access to Hannah in the series than she is in the book, even going far enough to let her know where Hannah lives.
    • Baby Nichole, Nick and June's baby, becomes a pawn between Serena and June during June's pregnancy and after she gives birth.
  • A chilling example occurs in the Law & Order: SVU episode "Legitimate Rape." A sports reporter is stalked by one of her cameramen, who eventually rapes her. When she finds out that she is pregnant from the rape, she debates getting an abortion, but ultimately decides against it. The trouble is that the rapist uses the entirely-incorrect argument that women can't be impregnated by rape as his defense. One member of the jury believes this Insane Troll Logic, and the cameraman is only found guilty of stalking. The rapist then makes it clear that he is going to use "their" baby as an excuse to harass and forcibly spend time with the reporter for the next eighteen years. In a Downer Ending, the devastated reporter is forced to flee the country with the baby, knowing that she'll never be able to escape the rapist if he can find her.
  • In Lucifer (2016), Michael gives his infant nephew Charlie a common cold, knowing that it will give Amenadiel, an angel that has lived for billions of years, fears about his son's mortality and the fact he will eventually outlive him.
  • Once Upon a Time:
    • During the first season, Regina would take any steps necessary to convince Emma to leave Storybrooke, and that includes manipulating their son, 10-year-old Henry. For instance, in the second episode, Regina arranges for Henry to walk into the room just as Emma says she thinks his belief in magic is crazy, in order to drive a wedge between them. As time passes and Regina undergoes a Heel–Face Turn, she stops doing this.
    • Regina's mother Cora used a young Snow White in order to marry off Regina to Snow's widowed father, King Leopold. First, she spooked Snow's horse when Regina was nearby so Regina would feel impelled to save her, leading King Leopold to give her the Standard Hero Reward of a chance to marry him. When Regina resisted, Cora then played on Snow's grief over her mother's death to get Snow to tell Cora what Regina was hiding (pretending to do it out of loving concern). When Snow revealed Regina's plans to elope with a stable boy, Cora killed him so she would have no choice but to marry the king. Regina, so abused by her mother that she cannot blame her, turned all her rage on Snow, starting the years-long crusade for Revenge against Snow that lead to the Curse. Snow herself later brings up that she was just a child and had no idea what Cora would do with that information.
  • Power Rangers: There are a few times when Rita or one of the other villains uses a child as a pawn.
    • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Rita uses a child to open a chest because the child is innocent enough to open it while Rita, an evil sorceress, cannot.
    • Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue would repeat this and almost caused one of the main cast to quit over the storyline of that particular episode.
  • Ted Lasso: Although Rebecca deeply wanted to be a mother, Rupert always claimed he didn't want children and so they didn't have any. Soon after their divorce, he gets his new girlfriend pregnant and gloats that he just didn't want to have children with her. Later, he takes his baby daughter to Rebecca's father's funeral knowing it will upset her.
  • The first episode of Who Wants to Be a Superhero? used this for a Secret Test of Character. Stan Lee told the contestants that their challenge was to change into their superhero costume in public without being seen, then race to a purple archway. But just before the finish line, there was a little girl crying that she'd lost her mother, and the actual test was to stop and help her. Only four of the ten heroes passed. Downplayed in that the little girl was obviously an actress who was in on the game.

  • Annie: Rooster and Lily pose as Annie's parents so they can take Warbucks's reward for themselves, using Miss Hannigan's inside information.

    Video Games 
  • In BioShock Infinite, Daisy Fitzroy is shown using children as couriers.
    Dropped a couple grizzly traps 'round the lines up here. Idea was bleed one of your couriers till he gave you up. 'Cept, of course, you're using kids now.

  • Megan Kearney's Beauty and the Beast: When Beast's mother was young, the king took her as his mistress, but he cast her away when she got pregnant. She is obsessed with raising their son to be the next in line for the throne, controlling every aspect of his life and going as far as poisoning the queen to keep her from having children. All that to make the king recognize that she had once meant something for him.
  • Team Fortress 2: When Gray Mann fails to conquer Mann Co. by force with his army of robots, he decides to take over the company through its CEO Saxton Hale's declaration that any rival CEO can replace him if they defeat him in personal combat. Gray Mann makes his tiny daughter Olivia the CEO of Gray Gravel Co. and has her fight Saxton, who forfeits because he can't bring himself to beat up a child (and there's no one else he can force to do so).

    Web Original 
  • The Evil Overlord List Cellblock A includes using young children to distract the hero(es).
    If I have children and subsequently grandchildren, I will keep my 3-year-old granddaughter near me at all times. When the hero enters to kill me, I will ask him to first explain to her why it is necessary to kill her beloved grandpa. When the hero launches into an explanation of morality way over her head, that will be her cue to pull the lever and send him into the pit of crocodiles. After all, small children like crocodiles almost as much as Evil Overlords and it's important to spend quality time with the grandkids.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: King Andrias tells Marcy that she and her friends can travel the multiverse forever with him if she gets him the box after charging it at all three temples, though his real plan is to use the box to conquer earth. In return, he spills her secrets and stabs her in the back. He is later shown to have grown attached to her and regret his manipulation.
  • The Grand Finale of Gravity Falls kicks off when Bill Cipher preys on Mabel's insecurity and fears about the future to trick her into breaking a time rift, which was serving as a Restraining Bolt preventing Bill from entering the real world and conquering it. Thankfully, Grunkle Ford was Crazy-Prepared and created a defense system that blocks Bill and his minions from extending their influence anywhere beyond Gravity Falls itself. Bill kidnaps Ford and demands that they tell him how to disable the defense, but they won't budge...until Bill notices just how much they care about Dipper and Mabel, setting out to kidnap them and break Ford's spirit.
  • The Owl House: Belos is a Manipulative Bastard willing to use anyone and anything to get what he wants, children included.
    • In the past, while still using his real identity, Philip Wittebane, he met a time-travelling Luz and tricked both her and Lilith into accompanying him on his trip into the Head to sacrifice to the Stonesleeper as a distraction in order to obtain the Collector's mirror. While no one ended up dying, still he got what wanted in the end.
    • When Luz and Hunter wind up in emperor's mind, the Inner Belos takes on the form of a small child to lead the kids around, pretending the amalgamation of Palismen souls within him is the real Inner Belos. This allows him to gather up materials for a trap and use Luz and Hunter as bait to catch and destroy the souls, much to their horror.
    • Hunter is the latest Grimwalker created by Belos and is only sixteen, but used as a Child Soldier and was raised to follow all orders without question. Belos, pretending to be his uncle, thus has Hunter unwittingly aid him in his horrific plots, convincing the boy it's all for the greater good.
    • Played With. The Collector is an incredibly old entity, but is physically and mentally a young child. Belos easily tricks them into helping him with his plans to annihilate the inhabitants of the Boiling Isles by promising to free them from their prison in exchange. Unfortunately for Belos, unlike the other children, after being freed The Collector has the power to fight back when he refuses to uphold his end and quickly makes him pay for his lies.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: When Adora and Catra were children, Shadow Weaver threatened to torture/kill the latter in order to make Adora do whatever she said. She also raised Adora to use her potential for magic as a tool to overthrow Hordak and take the power of the Heart of Etheria.