September 24, 2013
Child Soldier Rehabilitation “We went from children who were afraid of gunshots to now children who were gunshots.” - Ishmael Beah, former child soldier.
The conscription of child soldiers happens all around the world and their degree of use is internationally sanctioned at varying grades of acceptability. The combat usages of children are authorized in some countries despite the practice being highly unethical. Up to half of the world’s child soldiers are in Africa and as many as 200,000 child soldiers are still affected by military influence. Many of these children are “invisible children,” orphaned by AIDS, violence and war. Michael Odeh, a Senior Research Assistant at Youth Advocate Program, states that, “children are easy to recruit because of their vulnerability and naiveté, but are often neglected once the conflict is over or when they leave the group.” For most of them, they will not have the chance to reintegrate back into the community but the fortunate few are rescued by government militias and are given a process of rehabilitation. In the Journal of International Policy Solutions author Aaron Young tackles the major issues of child soldiers around the world. UNICEF identifies three overlapping phases of "turning a child soldier back into a child." The first is disarmament and demobilization, which involves identifying child soldiers and taking them physically out of the military environment. The second phase is physical and psychological rehabilitation.
Former child soldiers are frequently in poor physical condition and have sustained massive psychological trauma as a result of their military experience and age. The third and final phase is reintegration with families and the community. The entire process of rehabilitation may take months, if not years, to complete. Young states that the Ugandan government, in collaboration with international organizations, has set up psychological counseling programs for former child soldiers. The program aims to reintegrate the children back into their own respective families and communities. These measures have had a mixed success. Children who have been released, rescued and escaped from the LRA are usually brought to the nearest army detachment and sent to the army's Child Protection Unit. From the CPU, they are taken to one of the rehabilitation centers in various cities. This specialized approach is based on the assumption that the trauma experienced by child soldiers requires individualized care in a specific setting before reunited with their families. This method focuses on providing medical care to the children, tracing their families, and getting them to participate in "psychosocial" programs before being released into their communities. According to Young, when child soldiers are identified, the international community can use local and community-based methods to demobilize, rehabilitate, and reintegrate them. There is no one right way to rehabilitate or reintegrate former child soldiers, but the international community can most effectively implement an effective approach towards this process. International organizations and states should focus on providing community and family members with the resources and assistance they need to successfully reunite and reintegrate former child solders with their communities.
The 18-year old rebellion of the Lord’s Resistance Army against the government has forced over 1.6 million Ugandans to flee and the refugees are neglected in overcrowded camps in order to escape random attacks and killings. The disturbing aspect of this war is the fact that this is fought by children on children; minors make up almost 90% of the LRA’s soldiers. Some recruits are as young as eight and are