The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) at turn of the twenty-first century was the first international tribunal to convict individuals for the war crime of enlisting and using child soldiers. It was also the first international tribunal to address the issue of culpability for the atrocities committed by those under the age of eighteen. This thesis examines which conceptions of children in conflict had emerged by the 1990s, and how these conceptions were reflected in the establishment of the SCSL. It finds that while child soldiering is often considered to be a new phenomenon, it has significant historical roots across many different societies, including in the Global North. However, changing Western conceptions of childhood were reflected in developing international law. By the time of the establishment of the SCSL, an epistemic community which viewed child soldiers primarily as victims had emerged. This view clashed with local understandings of childhood and criminal responsibility. While the Sierra Leone Tribunal was massively important for children’s rights, the lack of recognition of the complexities of the child soldier issue reduced the legitimacy of the trials, and furthered a narrative of child soldiers as an ‘African’ problem.