Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection

By Michael Wessells | Go to book overview

3
Inside Armed Groups

A child’s entry into an armed group marks a profound life transition. Separated from parents and the supports of family and friends, child recruits enter a new world governed by strict military rules, harsh discipline, multiple hardships, and frequent exposure to deaths. It is a world full of risks—attack, exploitation, disease—and the child’s survival is very much at stake. The multitude of hardships include deprivations of freedom, grueling marches, heavy labor, shortages of food and water, and health problems. This social world is a culture of violence, because violence saturates daily activities, children face constant danger, and the armed group deliberately uses violence as a means of achieving its objectives.

Adaptation to life in an armed group entails a process of resocialization (Schafer 2004) that may reshape behavior, roles, values, and identities. In its extreme form, the process involves both taking apart and remaking the child. Although child soldiers are sometimes portrayed as having been programmed or brainwashed, this term can be misleading since child soldiers undergo self-guided, internal changes in adapting to their new situation. To survive, children often have to submit to group rules and accept their new situation. In doing so, they may commit unspeakable acts that their morals and values would have prohibited in civilian life. Cut off from their previous lives, they learn to put their past behind them and reconstruct themselves in the context of the armed group. Most children will become conditioned to violence and death, experiencing as normal what most people would regard as abnormal. Many learn to embrace military codes of honor, carve out new identities

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Child Soldiers: From Violence to Protection
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Child Soldiers - From Violence to Protection iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • 1: Child Victims, Young Combatants 1
  • 2: Entry into Armed Groups 31
  • 3: Inside Armed Groups 57
  • 4: Girl Soldiers 85
  • 5: Health and HIV/AIDS 107
  • 6: The Invisible Wounds of War 126
  • 7: Putting Down the Gun 154
  • 8: The Transition to Civilian Life 181
  • 9: Community Reconciliation, Justice, and Protection 208
  • 10: Prevention 232
  • Reference Index 259
  • References 261
  • Index 277
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