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Child Abuse Negl. 2011 Jul;35(7):551-62. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2011.03.011. Epub 2011 Aug 9.

Forced conscription of children during armed conflict: experiences of former child soldiers in northern Uganda.

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  • 1Department of Orthopedagogics, Ghent University, Belgium.



Child soldiering can be considered as one of the worst practices of institutionalized child abuse. However, little is known about the scope and nature of this abuse and the consequent experiences of children enrolled in an armed faction. This research aims at enriching the knowledge on the experiences of child soldiers in the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.


The databases of 4 former Interim Care Centres for returned child soldiers in northern Uganda, comprising socio-demographic information of 8,790 returnees, and additional data from the Rachele Rehabilitation Centre on war-related experiences of 1,995 former child soldiers, are analyzed using descriptive statistics, analysis of covariance and regression analysis.


During on average 1.5 years in captivity, nearly all participants had various war-related experiences, whereby 88% witnessed and 76% forcibly participated in atrocities. Variations in exposure to warfare appear to be mainly associated with age of abduction, duration of captivity, location of captivity, being military trained, and being a rebel's wife.


These findings testify to the vastness of abuse lived through by the child soldiers in this study. They fulfilled a multifaceted position in the LRA, which delivers a range of potential direct and indirect consequences. The variables decisive in differential experiences unveil trends in the strategic abduction by the LRA and in differential exposure to warfare among child soldiers.


The variation in exposure to warfare urges for an individualized approach and monitoring of returning child soldiers. In order to address the potential indirect impact of child soldiering, support also needs to be oriented towards the child's network, based on a socio-ecological approach.

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