The hidden health trauma of child soldiers

03/10/04

A research letter and editorial in this week's issue report the horror facing an estimated 300,000 children worldwide forced to become child soldiers.

Ilse Derluyn from Ghent University, Belgium, and colleagues interviewed around 300 former child soldiers who had been abducted by the northern Ugandan rebellion movement Lord's Resistance Army. All the children were abducted at a young age (average 13 years of age); the majority for more than two years. Nearly all the abducted children experienced highly traumatic events: half the children were seriously beaten; three-quarters saw another person being killed; 39% killed another person; 39% abducted other children; and 35% of girls were sexually abused.

71 of the interviewed children completed a self-report questionnaire to assess post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 97% suffered PTSD regardless of the amount of time spent as child soldiers or the time elapsed since they were involved in conflict. The authors conclude that their findings 'shed light on the nature of severe trauma experienced by this group of children, and show a high rate of post-traumatic stress reactions.'

This week's Lancet editorial (p 831) is critical of the United Nations Security Council for not taking strong enough action against organisations who recruit child soldiers, commenting: 'It is not enough for the UN to say that parties should draw up action plans. The leaders of the UN and its constituent nations should already be intervening in the most vigorous ways possible in conflicts where children are used in war'.

The editorial concludes: 'The rebuilding of societies after wars must be an urgent priority so that these children can be rehabilitated, educated, and have a secure future. For the rest of the world to look the other way while each night children hide from warlords is a terrible indictment of 21st century priorities.'

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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