Youth Soldiering: An integrated framework for understanding psychosocial impact

A pervasive characteristic of contemporary political violence is that youth, mostly between the ages of 14 and 18 years, are prominent actors in these hostilities. Seventy-two (72) different parties to armed conflict currently use children as soldiers. The best current estimates suggest there are approximately 300,000 child soldiers, including children as young as 6 or 7 years. 

A profound question that warrants urgent attention is how does soldiering affect youth, who are among the most precious resources of any society? This book chapter (excerpted from  Adolescents and War: How youth deal with political violence, edited by Brian K. Barber) aims to contribute to a more holistic understanding of the consequences of youth soldiering, recognizing the diversity within the category “child soldiers” and using young people’s testimonies to show how youth understand their experiences and choices.

Having put the definitions of “youth” and “child soldiers” in critical perspective, this chapter analyzes various pathways for a young person’s entry into soldiering, recognizing the linkage between how one enters and the impact of soldiering itself. Next, this chapter examines the varied roles and experiences of youth soldiers, connecting these with gender, the choices young people make while associated with an armed group, and their evolving sense of meaning and identity. Then this chapter probes the impact of youth soldiering within a holistic framework that links psychosocial well-being with health, cosmology, economics, and social roles and relations. The chapter concludes with reflections on the implications of this holistic conceptualization for social reintegration and peacebuilding. In writing, the authors will draw on their own field experience and research, particularly in Afghanistan, Angola, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. 

Published 2018-12-31