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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The experience of child soldiers from a resilience perspective Cabrales, Liliana Cortes


More than 300,000 children under 18 - girls and boys - are fighting as soldiers with government armed forces and armed opposition groups in more than 30 countries worldwide. These children not only witness, but are also forced to perpetrate atrocities to other human beings. Although the study of childhood trauma has focused on the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and its impact on children's development, the study of children who do not exhibit trauma-related symptoms after experiencing the same conditions has been overlooked in the social sciences. These children embody the healing nature of human beings, a ray of hope for societies that fail to protect their children, and an enriching perspective on what is known about trauma. The ability to bounce back and function adaptively after facing traumatic events has been defined in the literature as resilience. The purpose of this qualitative study was to identify and understand some of the mechanisms and resources that these children draw upon to overcome adversity. The research question was "what factors help prevent and overcome the effects of war trauma on child-soldiers?" Resilience was operationalized as the absence of psychopathology, and child soldiers were those who fell under the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (2000). The data was collected through lifeline review and semi-structured interviews. A sample of six child soldiers was recruited through purposive sampling techniques. Six narrative themes emerged after analyzing the stories using a collaborative narrative analysis. In order of significance they are: (a) sense of agency (n=6); (b) social intelligence, empathy, and affect regulation (n=6); (c) shared experience, care giving figures, and community response (n=5); (d) sense of future, hope, and growth (n=5); (e) spirituality (n=4), and (f) morality (n=4). Finally, recommendations for reintegration programs and for the field of counselling psychology are presented.

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