Scratching the Surface: A Comparison of Girl Soldiers from Three Geographic Regions of the World
Over 300,000 children are estimated to be conscripted participants in conflicts throughout the world. Depending on the particular armed group that employs child soldiers, girls represent 6 to 50% of child soldiers. Despite this prevalence of involvement, the experience of girls as soldiers in war and political conflict has rarely been investigated. In order to build a foundation for more focused study on girl soldier experiences, this literature review aims to provide a comprehensive report of girl soldiers throughout the world. The analysis focused on three aspects of conflict experience: (1) how girls become affiliated with armed groups; (2) their experiences while associated with armed groups; and (3) the effects of participation in war. Particular attention was given to whether girls’ experiences vary across geographic area. Generally, in African conflicts (e.g., Sierra Leone and northern Uganda) girls become affiliated with armed groups through abduction. Often, they experience sexual abuse and, as a result, are stigmatized by their families and communities when they return home. In contrast, in the Americas (e.g., Colombia and El Salvador) and in Indonesia/South Pacific (e.g., Philippines and Sri Lanka) girls become involved as an escape from unpleasant home lives. These girls are less likely to experience sexual abuse, and do not experience the same stigmatization from families and communities. Often these girls are taught a skill, such as nursing, while with an armed group but are unable to find job opportunities post-war using their newly acquired skill. The apparent variations in girls’ experiences in armed conflict have implications for both research and application in helping focus attention on the conflict-specific aspects of girls’ experiences. In some regions both research and applied efforts need to focus on the effects and treatment of sexual abuse, whereas in other conflicts, time and resources would be better spent at understanding and promoting female integration into the postconflict occupational sphere.