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Conscription of children in armed conflict—a form of child abuse. A study of 19 former child soldiers

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Armed combat in childhood is a form of child abuse. It may lead to serious consequences, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The inherent emotional abuse and acts or omissions by caregivers may cause behavioural, cognitive, emotional or mental disorder in the child. Nineteen former child soldiers were interviewed in a rehabilitation centre using a standard questionnaire. Reasons for recruitment included: volunteered (18), hatred of enemy (revenge) (5), virtue of being a freedom fighter (martyrdom) (9), as a means of supporting their family (economic) (3). One child was abducted, 7 joined for fear of the ‘enemy’ abducting them, and in 5 a family member was killed by ‘enemy’ or own group. The children were involved in manual labour (15), guard duty (15), front-line fighting (7), bomb manufacture (5), setting sea/land mines (5) and radio and communication (2). Fifteen were trained in firearms and 14 in self-destruction. Twelve children attempted to or did run away and 11 refused to obey orders or argued. This led to various punishments, including kitchen duty, beatings, imprisonment, blackmail or death threats. A majority of the children felt sad and emotionally upset when they remembered their mother and family. Children's involvement in war, whatever the ‘justifications’ may be, should always be considered as forced, as they cannot truly comprehend their action in war. The responsibility must be taken by the adult caregivers. The following definition of the abuse of children in armed conflict is proposed: ‘The involvement of dependent, developmentally immature children and adolescents in armed conflict they do not truly comprehend, to which they are unable to give informed consent, and which adversely affects the child's right to unhindered growth and identity as a child’. Firm international agreement on guidelines for the lower age limit of recruitment of children into armed forces is required. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
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Keywords: child abuse; child soldier; emotional abuse; post-traumatic stress disorder

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Head of Child Protection Authority, Colombo, Sri Lanka 2: Consultant Community Paediatrician, St James's University Hospital, Leeds 3: Consultant Clinical Psychologist, St James's University Hospital, Leeds

Publication date: 2001-03-01

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