Trauma and Reintegration of Child Soldiers

Child soldiers are not a new phenomenon. It is obvious, however, that particularly since the emergence of new and asymmetric wars, child soldiers are increasingly being recruited and deployed.

The more burdensome the experiences are, a persons suffers in war, the more psychological resources are needed in order to cope with these experiences and to not suffer consequential damages.

Children are—due to their lower capacity to withstand stress—particularly at risk to experience both physical and psychological problems. Moreover, in comparison to other children, child soldiers suffer a triple traumatization: Not only as victims and witnesses of violence, but also as perpetrators.

Traumas originating from experiences in armed conflicts are classified by science as a so-called »man-made trauma«. Such traumas upset the basic principles of reality and the confidence of the concerned in the reliability of the social world.

Even after their armed missions, the horrors of war are not over for most child soldiers. Many of the adolescent fighters—particularly after a long-time at the front and in military units—closely identify with the armed struggle. When returning to known structures, they experience a feeling of alienation that is often accompanied by strong feelings of guilt. The reintegration into civilian life, which is characterized by old structures and institutions, is often unsuccessful—also due to social stigmatization and exclusion.

child soldier trauma
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Just like adult soldiers, children can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms of this are nightmares and/or insomnia, bad temper, social pull out, suspicion and hostility towards the environment, feelings of emptiness and helplessness and constant nervousness that may increase to persistent anxiety. In the process of the trauma treatment, the individuals may experience drastic changes in personality. Even after years of psychiatric care and support—which is seldom available—former child soldiers often cope their whole lives with integrating threatening war experiences into their ideas of the self and their understanding of the world.