Research Handbook on Child Soldiers
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Research Handbook on Child Soldiers

Edited by Mark A. Drumbl and Jastine C. Barrett

Child soldiers remain poorly understood and inadequately protected, despite significant media attention and many policy initiatives. This Research Handbook aims to redress this troubling gap. It offers a reflective, fresh and nuanced review of the complex issue of child soldiering. The Handbook brings together scholars from six continents, diverse experiences, and a broad range of disciplines. Along the way, it unpacks the life-cycle of youth and militarization: from recruitment to demobilization to return to civilian life. The overarching aim of the Handbook is to render the invisible visible – the contributions map the unmapped and chart new directions. Challenging prevailing assumptions and conceptions, the Research Handbook on Child Soldiers focuses on adversity but also capacity: emphasising the resilience, humanity, and potentiality of children affected (rather than ‘afflicted’) by armed conflict.
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Chapter 3: The construction of gender in child soldiering in the Special Court for Sierra Leone

Valerie Oosterveld


The Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) was the first international criminal tribunal to prosecute and convict individuals for the war crime of recruitment and use of child soldiers. This chapter examines the narratives that emerged from the SCSL with respect to boy and girl soldiers. The SCSL’s transcripts and judgments reveal that the soldiering experience was highly gendered for both boys and girls. Silences, however, became apparent. The SCSL did not examine sexual violence committed against these boys, for example. The testimony provided by girls affiliated with the AFRC and RUF demonstrated that these groups targeted girls to serve as fighters, but also to function within a gendered socio-economic caregiving structure, to cook, clean, launder and act as sexual slaves for the fighters. Additionally, girls were commonly subjected to sexual violence. Far fewer girls than boys however testified at the SCSL about their training and combat experiences. The chapter concludes that the SCSL is rightfully lauded for ‘surfacing’ the gendered experiences of children affiliated with armed groups in Sierra Leone. At the same time, future tribunals need to be alert to gender ‘blind spots’, so as to render all child soldiers visible.

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