The idea of child soldiers is itself young. International law organisations didn’t take up the issue until the close of the 20th century and, even then, they did so in a cautious and patchwork manner. The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child asks governments to take ‘all feasible measures’ to keep children under 15 from direct combat. In 2000, the UN General Assembly committed to raising the age to 18, and in 2002 the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict was made good – sort of. Non-state guerrilla groups are banned from recruiting anyone under 18, while states are allowed to enlist volunteers over 15. The child soldier as a criminal aberration, a violation of even the rules of war, is more or less a 21st-century idea. But what it lacks in history, the child soldier makes up for with dramatic pathos. Whether it’s an aid organisation making a fundraising pitch or a news anchor plucking heartstrings, nothing conveys the depravity of far-off conflict quite like the image of a nine-year-old smoking a cigarette and toting an AK-47. The memoir A Long Way Gone (2007) by the former child soldier Ishmael Beah tells the now-familiar story of forcible recruitment at 12, drugs, coercion and four years of violence, before a rescue by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Though a lot of the facts are now disputed, Beah’s stories of Sierra Leone helped to establish the child soldier as an archetype of misfortune.