Child Soldiers

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences: Second Edition




Children and adolescents; Conflict; Depression; Mental health; Military; Nepal; Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); Postconflict situations; Reintegration; Sierra Leone; Trauma; Uganda; War


© 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Child soldiers can be any person under 18 associated with an armed group and fulfilling many roles that may or may not involve combat. An estimated 300. 000 children across the globe are members of state militaries and other armed groups. Although armed groups used children throughout history, the widespread availability of small arms has made it physically possible for children to participate in a more lethal combat, thereby increasing their participation value. Children become involved in armed groups through abduction, threats, pressure, and manipulation. Voluntary association also occurs in the context of poverty, gender and ethnic discrimination, and state-sponsored violence. Among published studies of child soldiers, high levels of exposure to violence are reported. Moreover, post-traumatic stress disorder may affect more than half of all child soldiers at some point after association with armed groups. Postconflict factors such as educational and economic deprivation, stigmatization, and discrimination have been associated with adverse outcomes. Reintegration and rehabilitation is particularly difficult for girl soldiers. Potential protective factors for successful reintegration include community sensitization, cleansing rituals, transitional periods in interim care centers, religious support, psychosocial counseling, family mediation, and skills-based vocational training. Policy and advocacy is needed to provide educational and employment alternatives to children in place of joining armed groups; and, regulation and control of small arms trade is needed to reduce recruitment of children by armed groups.

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