Photograph of Marine giving candy to an interned childOregon,

Marine Corps. Via

Children have historically been victims of warfare rather than participants. This mostly remained true during the Second World War. However, older children were sometimes recruited for work or even for military service by desperate governments, while younger children were often evacuated to rural areas to escape strategic bombing or other forms of attack.

Where the line between young adults and older children was drawn depended on both culture and circumstances. In Japan the line was usually drawn at age 20, while the United States usually put the line at age 18. However, both powers made exceptions to the general rule. 

The war had adverse effects on children other than physical danger or the threat of military recruitment. In the United States, child care was sorely lacking for industrial workers who flocked to wartime factories, and the phenomenon of "latchkey children" made its first appearance. "Juvenile delinquency rates skyrocketed during the war years" (Flynn 1993), and by March 1944, 17-year-old males became the leading criminal demographic. Teenage girls enamored of anything wearing a uniform became an army of camp followers on the West Coast, where they were known as "V-girls" or "khaki-whackies." Rates of venereal disease and pregnancy among unmarried teenage girls doubled in the San Francisco area, and arrests of girls under 21 increased 130 percent between 1941 and 1944. Most were for prostitution, but burglaries by girls jumped 30%. Sensational crimes committed by young people were widely reported in the newspapers, including a gang rape by teenagers in a crowded theater in the Bronx and the murder by an 18-year-old of his father, stepmother, grandparents, and brother. One girl in Renton, Washington, claimed she had had sex with ninety boys in order to gain admission to a youth gang.

Japan. By 1944 the manpower shortage in Japan was severe enough that men under the age of 20, the usual age for conscription into military service, were pressured to volunteer. Some were boys as young as 15. Conscription reached a peak after a 26 February 1945 decree for a massive mobilization, in three stages, to meet the threat of an Allied invasion. Males as young as 15 and females as young as 17 were to be enrolled in the National Resistance Program, a militia force armed with little more than bamboo spears.

Sometimes the shortage of medical personnel was made up by conscripting whole schools of teenage girls, who received little training before being shipped to the combat areas.

United States. In the United States, the armed services were forbidden to recruit children under the age of 17, and 17-year-olds could be inducted only with their parents' consent. The minimum age subject to the draft was set at 20 after war broke out and lowered to 18 in November 1942.

Children under 16 were forbidden by law to work in most occupations. There were limited exceptions for children of 14 or 15 years of age in activities such as farming.

China. The Chinese Red Cross, under Dr. R.K.S. Lim, recruited large numbers of Chinese Boy Scouts, who gave valuable service and were praised for their reliability and intelligence. 


Klein (2013)
Marston (2005)
Parrish (1978)
U.S. Department of Labor (1945; accessed 2011-8-8)

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