In his magazine article describing the obscene violence that is currently going on in Uganda, Christopher Hitchenssits down with a boy named James at a rehab center. James was fortunate enough to escape being a slave to Kony, when he was marched all the way to Sudan, where an ambush ensued and James got away. Marching long distances was an initiation technique used by the Lord’s Resistance Army in order to herd out the weaker boys. If a boy was too tired to go on, the other slaves were forced to brutally beat him to death.
Before the march, James was savagely flogged with a wire lash and spared from having to kill his own family which is a frequent method of registration practised by the Lord’sResistance Army. No doubt, these experiences would have a negative developmental affect on any child, perhaps developing PTSD. Hitchens writes that when he was speaking to James, the boy would sit perfectly still in his chair, stoic, but when it came time for James to share his story, he began twisting in his chair.
Along with rubbing his eyes and making waving gestures with his arms, these restless and jumpy behaviours are common symptoms of PTSD. What is the impact on a child who was forced to kill someone? Are the outcomes of this experience just as severe as witnessing a murder or being raped? Future research must dissect these varying forms of war trauma and compare the severity of a specificexperience to the negative developmental outcomes. Though the analyses of the data collected from these smalls groups seems exhausting, it is vital in order to better understand the individual.
Slowly but surely, the research gathered surrounding specific traumatic experiences, will uncover more sophisticated strategies in the rehabilitation of former child soldiers. Participants were taught to verbalize the traumatic Overwhelming Events and that these events and the accompanying emotions might no longer be processed on a conscious level and could produce psychological disequilibrium. They were then taught that these traumatic events and emotions are often encapsulated in their subconscious memory as a coping device and that encapsulating the events and emotions can cause physical symptoms – Somatisation.
Participants learned to recognize the psychological and physical bondage of these traumatic events and to acknowledge that these were beyond their control. This was followed by selecting a Companion to Release the encapsulated events to and leads to greater freedom from the emotional bondage. Recognizing their own Resilience as based on their individual strengths leads to the emergence of a New-Self, which leads to Rebuilding their social structure. A final Commencement celebration serves to integrate the learning as well as to initiate a bridge between the former child soldiers and their community.
The vulnerability of a child who has just witnessed the destruction of their village and possibly the murder of their family, allows warlords to brainwash them and force them to perform sinister acts of violence. While being enslaved, a child’s once innocent mind is often flooded with warped views by their captor, and turned into an irrational killing machine. The effects of this are devastating on several levels; psychological, emotional, social and physical. As the previously discussed studies prove, it is crucial for research to continue surrounding the mental health outcomes of child soldiers in any war torn country.
References Bayer, C. P. , Klasen, F. , Adam, H. (2007). Association of Trauma and PTSD Symptoms WithOpenness to Reconciliation and Feelings of Revenge Among Former Ugandan and Congolese Child Soldiers. JAMA, 298(5), 555 – 559. Hitchens, C. (2006). Childhood’s End. Vanity Fair, Jan 2006, 58 – 64. Onyut, L. P. , Neuner, F. , Schauer, E. , Ertl, V, Odenwald, Shauer, M. , Elbert, T. (2005). Narrative Exposure Therapy as a treatment for child war survivors with posttraumatic stress disorder: Two case reports and a pilot study in an African refugee settlement. BMC Psychiatry, 5:7