Past horrors, present struggles: The role of stigma in the association between war experiences and psychosocial adjustment among former child soldiers in Sierra Leone

2010Betancourt, T. S. et al., Social science & medicine,

Upon returning to their communities, children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups–commonly referred to as child soldiers–often confront significant community stigma. Much research on the reintegration and rehabilitation of child soldiers has focused on exposure to past war-related violence and mental health outcomes, yet no empirical work has yet examined the role that post-conflict stigma plays in shaping long-term psychosocial adjustment. Two waves of data are used in this paper from the first prospective study of male and female former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. We examined the role of stigma (manifest in discrimination as well as lower levels of community and family acceptance) in the relationship between war-related experiences and psychosocial adjustment (depression, anxiety, hostility and adaptive behaviors). Former child soldiers differ from one another with regard to their post-war experiences, and these differences profoundly shape their psychosocial adjustment over time.

Key wordschild soldiers / children in armed conflict / violence against children

CountriesSierra Leone