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D., a senior child-protection specialist with the Christian Children's Fund. "You don't falter. You don't disobey. Any show of weakness and you're killed" (Amber, 2004).
Hamer (2010) writes "Child soldiers were portrayed as having no connections in society, without skills, incompetent and prone to violence, and it was strongly implied that they were trapped in a vicious circle and that they would always experience difficulties in returning to a non-violent routine because they had been actors and witnesses of too many atrocities during the war (p. 54).
Post Traumatic Stress
It is possible to identify with captors by other means as well. Due to their age and size children are basically powerless in the world. By identifying with their tormentors it is possible for children to gain a strong sense of power, denied to them by other means. By following orders they may come to believe they will receive additional rewards such as food or a higher position within the group. Such measures often lead to high levels of obedience. If and when children are eventually freed from their captors they are highly susceptible to suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
DSM-IV defines posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a pervasive anxiety disorder that follows exposure to stressful events accompanied by intense fear, helplessness, or horror (Kanagaratnam, et al., 2005, p. 512). PTSD, depression, and behavioral and emotional problems routinely plague survivors of violence. Hostility and anxiety complete the emotional wounds of children who survive war. The age of the child, the period of abduction, and the period between escape and research did not affect PTSD. Even children who escaped quite a long time ago still suffered from post-traumatic stress (Post-Traumatic, 2004, p. 862).
Adults are morally bound to care for and give comfort to children at all times, regardless of the circumstances, but especially in circumstances of war. Article 39 of the Convention on Rights of the Child (n.d.) states: Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.
Humanitarian groups attempt to work with children of violence, providing safe shelter, food, and education but it is often not enough. Medical and psychological professionals, along with teachers trained in dealing with emotionally disturbed children, are in short supply but desperately needed. Even supplies of food, uncontaminated water, and safe housing are difficult to find. These shortages are magnified in developing nations where poverty is the only thing that is not difficult to find.
Hamer (2010) writes:
One difference with adults, partly due to their loss of human capital at an early age, is that children and adolescents usually had less time to acquire a skill before the war and had not yet had time to develop a large social network. This usually resulted in having fewer options after the war, for employment or self-employment. Although one would expect that this would be a motive to embrace the opportunities humanitarian interventions offer (by working hard during their training, by showing they are motivated, by being willing to continue learning skills, by being assiduous), longitudinal follow-up of some of the children provides a different picture and shows high dropout rates. Clearly, reinsertion assistance has to be redefined in order to bear any fruit (p. 49-50).
Girls and boys who have been caught up in circumstances of severe disadvantage and prolonged violence tend to be viewed as objects of assistance rather than as agents of their own welfare. They almost never have opportunities to publicly articulate their own concerns, needs and aspirations (Denov, & MacLure, 2006, p. 75). To foster resilience in children rescued from war, they must develop a sense of being accepted by others, particularly adults. Children who are welcomed into society and placed into non-violent communities have a greater chance for success as adults. If given emotional, physical, and spiritual support by adults their placement back into society gives them hope and lessen the hold of PTSD and depression.
Children come into the world innocent and pure but if they are able to survive and escape from their captors they always return psychologically damaged. Hundred of thousands of children worldwide have had their childhoods stolen and replaced with participation in horrors no sane adult wants to see. If medical aid is available physical wounds are often easy to treat but psychological rehabilitation is a long-term complicated process.
There are different methods used by psychiatrists and psychologists in attempting to rehabilitate child soldiers. Some believe it is imperative to trace the children's families and reunite them, reintegrating them into their old communities as well.
Others follow this method if at all possible but believe that reintegrating them into society in general is necessary if their families cannot be found. Additionally they use counseling sessions built around role play and art, encouraging the children to talk and act out their experiences. A program that allows participants to identify and confront the dilemmas and conflicts faced as children growing up in the war may help these young adults construct new ways of working to resolve current social problems without recreating the negative identities of the war (Dickson-Gomez, 2002, p. 353).
Psychologists believe that by sharing their stories the children come to realize they are not alone. Particularly helpful is having someone who has had the same experiences and survived serve as a role model, offering encouragement and support, instilling hope for their futures. There is copious evidence suggesting that children's experiences have important formative influences on their development of resilience during childhood but also that this may affect them during later adulthood. Children are, inevitably, in the process of developing resilience when and if they are engaged in violent and disastrous circumstances (Williams, 2007, p. 265). Hope is what they must cling to because once gone, childhood can never be reclaimed.
Children are being exposed to and used as tools in warfare as never before in the annals of history. Millions of children are deprived of basic staples such as food, water, and safe shelter while hundreds of thousands are forced into the role of armed combatants who witness brutality they could never have imagined.
The question can be raised as to why children are deliberately and cruelly exposed to and terrorized by warfare today. In their report Impact of Armed Conflict on Children UNICEF (n.d.) points to the changing character of modern warfare. All of today's wars are being fought not between States but within them. And in many cases religious and ethnic affiliations are being manipulated to heighten feelings of hatred or aggression -- against children as well as adults. As a result, the proportion of war victims who are civilians has leapt in recent decades from 5 per cent to over 90 per cent and at least half of these are children.
Children should be allowed to be children, with all the innocence that entails. The United Nations and humanitarian groups continue to advocate for children's rights with the ultimate goal of removing all children from harm, particularly any type of armed conflict. The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children report (UNICEF) states:
No peace treaty to date has formally recognized the existence of child combatants. As a result, their special needs are unlikely to be taken into account in demobilization programs. Official acknowledgement of children's part in a war is a vital step. Peace agreements and related documents should incorporate provisions for the demobilization of children; without this recognition, there can be no effective planning or programming on a national scale (pdf, p. 14).
Amber, J. (2004). Abduction of Innocents. Essence (Time Inc.), 35(8), 172-218. Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
Convention on Rights of the Child. (n.d.). United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights. Retrieved January 6, 2011. http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/crc.pdf
Denov, M. & MacLure, R. (2006). Engaging the Voices of Girls in the Aftermath of Sierra Leone's Conflict: Experiences and Perspectives in a Culture of Violence. Anthropologica. Vol. 48, No. 1, War and Peace / La guerre et la paix (2006), pp. 73-85. Published by: Canadian Anthropology Society Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25605298
Dickson-Gomez, J. (2002, Dec.). Growing up in Guerrilla Camps: The Long-Term Impact of Being a Child Soldier in El Salvador's Civil War. Ethos. Vol. 30, No. 4, pp. 327-356 .
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3651878
Encyclopedia Britannica (n.d.). http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/291011/international-law
Hamer, Magali C. (2010). Youngest Recruits: Pre-war, War & Post-war Experiences in Western Cote D'Ivoire. Amsterdam University Press, 2010.
Kanagaratnam, P., Raundalen, M., & Asbjornsen, a.E. (2005). Ideological commitment and posttraumatic stress in former Tamil child soldiers. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 46(6), 511-520. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2005.00483.x
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