It's one of the world's dirtiest secrets. The only thing worse then a dirty secret is one that everybody is in on, but refuses to acknowledge. Maybe they hope that if nobody says anything, it will miraculously cease to exist. It's a nice thought, but I think the reality is that it is not politically expedient for anybody to do anything about it. Why else would world leaders get so hot under the collar about things far more trivial, but stay almost completely mute on the issue of child soldiers?
Occasionally, the press will run pictures of large-eyed boys dressed in tattered rags with maybe a kerchief tied around their neck as uniform. Their malnourished bodies are dwarfed by automatic rifles, bandoliers of spare clips, and the requisite grenades worn like misplaced testicles on their hip; the testicles they probably won't live long enough to develop.
I wonder how many of them have the will anymore to realize if what they are wearing were sold on the open market the money would have fed their families for weeks, if not months. Of course that's irrelevant now, as most are orphans as a result of the conflict that has conscripted them. With adults in such short supply, it's only logical that children are used as cannon fodder. There's always plenty more where they came from, they're easily manipulated, and best of all, nobody cares about their fate.
Ashraf Bey, the new Chief of Detectives of El Iskandryia, the city that is the heart of the Ottoman Empire, knows that child armies have existed since the horrendous "Children's Crusade" of the 12th century. He might reside in the fictional world of the Arabesk Trilogy created by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, but that doesn't stop there from being common ground. Corruption, political expediency, and the colonial imperialism of Europe and America are facts of life that he must deal with daily.
If anything, the latter is even more prominent in Ashraf Bey's world. Although the Sultans still nominally rule the Ottoman Empire, the treaty brokered by the Americans in 1916 guaranteeing its survival allowed the French, Germans, and of course the Americans "advisory" status. Over the years, elaborate dances of protocol and intricate backroom manoeuvres have been developed by the leaders of El Iskandryia to keep their "protectors" at bay. Nevertheless, in moments of crisis, real ingenuity is needed to prevent the vultures from descending.