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 22: Do no harm: how reintegration programmes for former child soldiers can cause unintended harm

Michael G. Wessells


Following participation in armed forces or armed groups, former child soldiers frequently need assistance that promotes their reintegration into families and communities. Although reintegration programmes for former child soldiers can have positive outcomes, they may also cause unintended negative consequences and violate the humanitarian imperative of ‘do no harm’. Aiming to bring ethical issues associated with reintegration programming out of the margins, this chapter examines three broad categories of do no harm issues in regard to reintegration work: (1) discrimination; (2) the imposition of outsider approaches; and (3) the increase in child protection issues. Using examples from a variety of conflict settings, the chapter examines unintended harms related to excessive targeting of former child soldiers for support; gender discrimination; stigma; violation of children’s participation rights; the marginalization of cultural understandings of mental health and psychosocial issues; the absence of measures for enabling the accountability of former child soldiers to local communities; raised expectations amidst short-term supports; labelling; re-recruitment; and the securitization of reintegration processes, with former child soldiers at times depicted as ‘terrorists’. The chapter offers strategies for preventing or managing these harms.

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