It looks like the new American strategy for fighting/managing the Taliban is "if you can't beat them, pay them off." They're currently trying to buy out what they call the "$10 Taliban fighters" -- the people who aren't ideologically committed to the Taliban's goals, but instead are just trying to make a living. But while this strategy might work on some of the adults who would happily abandon Taliban service for a more lucrative offer, what will happen to the Taliban's growing army of child soldiers?
Children become Taliban fighters in a number of different ways, and through means that aren't as common in other parts of the world where child soldiers are ubiquitous. Some children are trafficked into service for the Taliban through kidnapping and sheer force. But a larger percentage join the ranks through other means, which range from extreme coercion and brainwashing to a simple ideological push in the extremist direction. They also range greatly in ages, from children as young as 7 to teen boys on the brink of adulthood.
The situation brings up several important and controversial questions. How old is old enough to choose to be a solider or a suicide bomber? If a child is being pushed in a direction by his parents, community, and faith, is that coercion? Communities around the world push children in ideological directions -- that's nothing new. So when does this activity cross the line into coercion? When the child has no reasonable choice but to follow the community. And in many cases with child soldiers working for the Taliban, that "choice" turns out to be forced martyrdom.
The new strategy of paying off Taliban fighters that the U.S. is considering won't work for the coerced or trafficked populations, especially children. Just like the practice of buying human trafficking victims from their exploiters, paying off child soldier recruiters only lines the pockets of people intent on exploiting others. Paying the children themselves won't work either, at least not without some other tools to help prevent them from being re-trafficked or coerced back into Taliban service. Otherwise, it's just a dangerous revolving door of limited choices.
Effectiveness aside, there's also the question of whether or not it's ethical to try and buy children who may be at risk for being killed out of exploitative situations. Is it morally acceptable if it works? Or is paying Taliban officials for the freedom of child soldiers always wrong? And who sets the price of a "$10 fighter?" How much should that child soldier cost?