Originally uploaded in SSRN.


The government’s use of children as informants in America’s 'wars' on drugs, crime, and gangs is little recognized and rarely discussed by scholars, policymakers, and the public. As with many governmental practices, only notorious instances make headlines, such as when a child is killed in retaliation for informing. Because public attention rarely is focused on the practice, it has not generated consistent documentation of, regulation of, or accountability for such use of child informants. As a starting point for discussion, this article illuminates the experiences of child informants, describing a facet of the snitching institution that generally operates under the radar. The article then considers the government’s use of child informants in light of its historical child protection function and its contemporary war-like stance regarding the domestic social problems of drugs, crime, and gangs. The article posits that the government’s use of child informants creates discord between the doctrine of parens patriae, which is aimed at protecting children, and the exercise of police power to further public safety. Further, the article observes that the substantial harms posed to child informants are viewed as collateral and bearable consequences in light of the valuable information obtained from child informants. In conclusion, the article asserts that the use of children as informants should be a closely-monitored and limited investigative method and delineates prophylactic measures restricting their use.