Rehabilitation of child soldiers: five approaches that work

20 October 2021

Platform for Social Justice engages with former child soldiers in Uganda. Based on its experience, it offers five approaches to facilitate their reintegration and build lasting peace.

Child soldiers are children (individuals under the age of 18) who get involved in military purposes. The term “child soldier” encompasses a wide range of roles in which children – boys and girls – are used in military conflictThe responsibilities of a child soldier can include armed combatant, spy, cook, porter, messenger and ‘wife’ (for sexual exploitation). Regardless of the responsibility, each role has long-term, negative effects on the child.

Many children “voluntarily” became child solders because they saw no other way out and suffered from a poor sense of belonging or lack of familial relationships; ongoing insecurity and/or displacement; no educational and employment opportunities; or poverty and lack of basic necessities.

Former Child soldiers face problems such as:

  • mental and physical health issues, most notably post-traumatic stress disorder and severe personality changes;
  • Drugs addiction, drugs-induced temperament changes and impact on their personality.
  • Physical maiming, including sexual violence-induced wounds like fistula
  • Stigma, rejection and/or fear from their family or community members

To escape their vulnerability, rejection and anxiety, former child soldiers need to be supported in several ways. A preventive approach can be effective through working within grassroot communities, to ensure that children feel appreciated and are accepted within their families.

Platform for Social Justice has identified the following approaches to help former child soldiers to re-integrate:

  1. Providing community support for culture and values: Support in this domain should mainly be oriented to embrace human rights issues and dignified cultural practices. War also often erodes the culture that unites people and constructs a shared identity, and that forms the framework for cultural-specific manifestations of challenges and responses to it. Support for cultural practices and values can therefore reinstall communal life and stimulate cooperative, indigenous responses to encountered challenges.
  2. Building community resilience including strengthening core families; working with caregivers to be the first line of acceptance, protection and care for former child soldiers; and partnering with local communities to address the problems that former child soldiers face.
  3. Specialized/professional systems of reintegration of former child soldiers into their families and communities. This can lead to the reunification, recovery and reintegration of the former child soldiers.
  4. Provision of social support:The support can help a former child soldier with access to education,  healthcare and life-saving or survival skills. This will help them to refocus his energy towards positive productivity and not engaging in wars/conflict.
  5. Promoting peace for conflict-affected youth: Through Peace clubs promoting positive values, former child soldiers can share their stories and be encouraged to embrace conflict resolution, forgiveness, non-violent expression, and civic participation.

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