Research projects



01/11/2008 - 21/01/2013

Department of Peace Building, Belgian Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation

Sofie Vindevogel,
Eric Broekaert &
Ilse Derluyn

It is estimated that worldwide about 300.000 minors are involved in armed conflict as child soldier. The often traumatizing experiences and stressful life conditions involved in child soldiering can have profound and persistent consequences for their psychological well-being. Besides, their absence in society and their often active role in the conflict may bring along various social challenges. Notwithstanding, many former child soldiers show amazing resilience in dealing with their situation upon return.

This project aims at studying how former child soldiers perceive this process and which resources they experience in dealing with this. More specifically, it aims at gaining insight into what former child soldiers experience as beneficial for they psychosocial well-being and what as remaining needs in order to deal with their situation. Therefore, a mixed method design is applied to conduct cross-sectional research with adolescents between 12 and 25 years old who were formerly as a child soldier involved in the northern Ugandan rebel faction ‘Lord’s Resistance Army’.


Contemporary conflicts are mostly characterized by being fought within state borders, whereby casualties are for political, social-psychological and operational aims inflicted on civilians. In northern Uganda, a conflict has been waging for more than two decades, whereby the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) plays a pivotal role. One of its most notorious war strategies targeting civilians, is the violent abduction and forced recruitment of minors as child soldiers within this armed faction. It is estimated that hitherto about 25 000 minors have become the victim of child soldiering applied during the armed conflict in northern Uganda.

Child soldiering is found to be associated with an increased exposure to stressful acts of war, which may exert a profound and persistent impact on the psychosocial well-being of these children. Besides, child soldiering leads to an intensified involvement in hostilities towards civilians, which may jeopardize their social reintegration.

Given the vulnerability of children for the impact of war and more specifically of child soldiering on their well-being, often cause for concern, not all these former child soldiers appear to be overthrown by their experiences. Many among them show amazing resilience in dealing with their situation upon return.


Consequently, with this research we aim at looking into what helps former child soldiers in dealing with their past experiences and current challenges as a consequence of child soldiering, according to their own perception. Thereby, we consider both intrapersonal resources, such as coping strategies, as well as interpersonal resources, such as social support.


This research is conducted in northern Uganda, where an armed conflict has been waging for more than two decades. More specifically, this research will be conducted in Lira district, with former child soldiers between 12 and 25 years old. The research exists of four studies.

A first study intents to document the scope and nature of war-related experiences and identifying factors associated with differential exposure to warfare during child soldiering in northern Uganda. Thereby, attention is drawn on the prevalence of such experiences as well as factors associated with differential exposure.
A second study aims at creating a profile of the longer term psychosocial well-being of former child soldiers. Moreover, an explorative model is being created and tested in order to preliminarily identifying what kind of factors yield influence on this longer term psychosocial well-being.

A third study aims to inventorise the resources for northern Ugandan former child soldiers during the process of returning from the warring faction to the war-affected society. The adolescents are being asked to list the resources they experienced on the micro-, meso- and macrolevel.

A fourth study is intended to delineate the meaning and processes beyond the valuated resources, in order to understand why the experienced resources are considered as helpful for the northern Ugandan former child soldiers.