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War and its Impact on Child Soldiers » Sex Trafficking and Prostitution

War and its Impact on Child Soldiers

May 13th, 2010 by rllano Leave a reply »

Thus far, this blog has focused on the impact of war on civilian women who experience sexual violence and the ways in which these impacts can be mitigated. Another important vulnerable group to consider are the girls (and boys) who are used by military groups as child soldiers. Without a doubt, these girls and boys experience significant abuse and trauma, with lasting effects even after they have returned to their communities. How are these children affected by these experiences and what is being done to address the negative impacts?

Child soldiers are officially referred to as “Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups” (CAAFAG), which is defined by the Paris Principles (2007) as “any person below 18 years of age who is or who has been recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to children, boys, and girls used as fighters, cooks, porters, messengers, spies, or for sexual purposes.” In the last decade, armed groups in 87 countries have used child soldiers, and at any given moment, there are about 250,000 to 300,000 CAAFAGs in the world despite international agreements protecting children such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (Betancourt, 2010). Some of these rights include the right to protection from all forms of violence (Article 19) and exploitation (Articles 34-36), and the right to protection of children affected by armed conflict (Article 38).

To understand how these children are affected by their involvement in armed groups, this blog will focus on the civil war in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. This conflict resulted in the displacement of over 75% of the population, and research suggests that an estimated 15,000 to 22,000 children were associated with armed groups (McKay & Mazurana 2004). Based on a study of ex-CAAFAGs, the average age at abduction was 10.3 years and the average length of time with fighting forces was 4.2 years (Betancourt, 2010). Moreover, over 98.8% of all children in the study reported joining by force, and 50% reported being forced to use drugs and alcohol. The study also noted that participants witnessed an average of 6.2 war-related violent events, and over 25% reported having killed or injured others during the war. Exposure to violence was similar across males and females except with regard to sexual violence; 45% of female child soldiers reported rape/sexual violence compared to 5% of male child soldiers.

So how did these traumatic events impact the reintegration of these children back into the community? Several correlations were found. For instance, killing or hurting others during the war was associated with increased hostility upon reintegration into the community. Furthermore, girls who survived rape and who were younger at the time of their involvement with armed groups were more likely to experience higher levels of depression and anxiety upon returning back to their communities. How can these negative impacts be mitigated? The answer to this question is often complicated by the stigma placed on these children by their communities once they return and will be the topic of next week’s blog.

1. The Paris Principles. (2007). “The Principles and Guidelines on Children Associated with Armed Forces or Armed Groups.” United Nations. http://www.un.org/children/conflict/_documents/parisprinciples/ParisPrinciples_EN.pdf
2. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm
3. McKay, S, & Mazurana, D. (2004). “Where are the Girls? Girls in Fighting Forces in Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone, and Mozambique: Their Lives During and After War.” International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development. http://www.humansecuritygateway.com/documents/ICHRDD_wherearethegirls.pdf
4. Betancourt, T. (2010). “A Longitudinal Study of Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone.” Harvard School of Public Health. Stanford University Presentation, Winter 2010.