Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | June 21, 2012

The psychological, cognitive and behavioral challenges of child soldiers coming home

This is a follow-up to Tuesday’s blog about child soldiers.

Professor Daya Somasundaram and Dr. Ruwan M. Jayatunge explain what happens when child soldiers come home:

  • “When the children were forcibly removed from their parents, some developed full-blown symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder. …The British Psychologist John Bowlby believed that attachment behaviors are instinctive and will be activated by any conditions that seem to threaten the achievement of proximity, such as separation, insecurity and fear.”
  • “The parents of an ex-child combatants often feel that their child has changed dramatically and he is unable to express love and warmth in return. Some express that there is an invisible wall between parents and the child. .. The child seems to have lost the sense of trust in adults and feels that he has lost his identity as a valuable member of the society. The child becomes oppositional, defiant, and impulsive, and parents feel that the child acts as if adults don’t exist in their world and does not look to adults for positive interactions.”
  • “Some children had created bonds with their abductors during their stay with them and feel that they had better time with the militants than with the parents.”
  • “Children and adolescents who had been displaced by civil war in Colombia reported expecting that they and others would steal and hurt people despite acknowledging that it would be morally wrong to do so, and many of them, especially adolescents, judged that taking revenge against some groups was justifiable.”
  • “While in armed groups, children were constantly taught that kindness, compassion and forgiveness were  signs of weakness.  The senior members of the rebel forces did killings and torture in front of the children for them to observe and learn.”
  • “Demobilized children have limited vocabulary and language skills. It has been reported that many young child soldiers were unable to perform cognitive tasks like reading comprehension or to solve mathematical word problems during their stay with the rebels. Although many child soldiers wore wristwatches pompously, they were unable to read time.”


U.S.-funded Prof. Daya Somasundaram at Adelaide University studies trauma of Sri Lankan Civil War.

The Tragedy of War

Personal page and articles by Dr. Ruwan M. Jayatunge M.D.


  1. I recently traveled to Northern Uganda and set up an art therapy service in an orphanage for former child soldiers and young people affected by conflict and trauma.I came back a week ago and I am hoping to return in a few months to carry on with the work. Below is the short movie I made while I was there;

    I would appreciate if you watch the clip and forward the link to friends and colleagues. I’m hoping it’ll help to promote the awareness and the sponsorship of war orphans at the orphanage and with a bit of luck, raise financial funds for further resources.

    I please do not hesitate to contact me directly if you’d like more info about this project or how you can support the orphanage.

    Thank you very much.

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