Despite international bans, more than 250,000 children fight as soldiers in 86 countries across the globe, almost half of them in Africa. Two new studies explored how these children adjust after they return to their homes. Key to successful adaptation, the studies found, was the characteristics of the communities to which the children returned.
In the first study, researchers found that former child soldiers from Sierra Leone who lived in communities in which they felt accepted were less depressed and more confident, and children who were able to stay in school showed more positive attitudes and behaviors. However, these protective factors didn't fully counterbalance the war-related trauma the children experienced, a finding that has implications for public health.
In the second study, researchers found that the former child soldiers from Uganda who adapted the best were those who returned to less violent homes and communities. These children also had fewer feelings of survivor guilt, less motivation to seek revenge, better socioeconomic situations, and more perceived spiritual support.
The studies appear in a special section on children and disaster in the July/August 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.
The first study took a longitudinal look at adjustment in former child solders involved in Sierra Leone's bloody civil war. Researchers focused on more than 150 children ages 10 to 18, mostly male, following them over two years. The research was carried out by a team based at Harvard University in collaboration with partners at the International Rescue Committee and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
During Sierra Leone's 1991-2002 civil war, thousands of children, some as young as 7, were conscripted into fighting forces and paramilitary groups, and as a result, witnessed executions, death squad killings, torture, detention, rape, and massacres of family members. As the conflict ended, th
|Contact: Sarah Hutcheon|
Society for Research in Child Development