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Post-traumatic stress in child soldiers

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I shall make no comment about this paper; to do so might give vent to my own emotions but it would serve no other useful purpose and you will no doubt experience similar reactions.

In 2001 it was estimated that in more than 50 countries around the world there were around 300 000 child soldiers. A group of Belgian workers has tried to assess the effects of soldiering and abduction on 301 children in northern Uganda (

see also editorial, ibid: 831). The organisation Sponsoring Children Uganda runs a rehabilitation centre for former child soldiers in the town of Gulu and 473 children and young adults are involved in the programme. They are former members of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) which recruits mainly by abduction of children; about 90% of its recruits are children and it has abducted some 20000. The researchers interviewed 301 former soldiers all of whom had been abducted. At the time of interview their ages ranged from 12 to 28 years. They had been between one and 22 years old when abducted and had spent between 3 days and 3000 days (8.2 years) in the army. They had returned between 59 and 3420 days (9.4 years) before the study. Most had experienced many traumatic events. Two hundred and thirty-three of the 301 had witnessed a killing; 118 had themselves killed somebody; 18 saw the killing of their own parents or siblings; and seven killed their own father, brother, or other relative. Twenty-one of the 53 girls were sexually abused and 11 had had a child.

Seventy-one former soldiers completed the impact event scale–revised (IES-R), a self-report scale for the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sixty-nine of the 71 had a score suggestive of PTSD. With the IES-R a score of 24 is regarded as clinically significant and the maximum possible score is 88; among the 71 former solders scores ranged from 18–81 and the mean score was 53.5. The death of their mother affected girls much more than boys. IES-R scores were not affected by age, duration of captivity, or length of time since captivity. These young people are often ostracised by their own communities because of their crimes.

The Lancet accuses the United Nations of producing platitudes rather than effective plans to combat the evil and calls for resources to be put into post-war rebuilding of broken societies. Leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army are to be brought before the International Criminal Court.

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