Community reaction critical to rebuilding lives of child soldiers

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How accepting or hostile a community is toward former child soldiers can help determine whether they will fare well or reoffend, according to Theresa Betancourt, associate professor of child health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and director of the Research Program on Children and Global Adversity at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at HSPH.

Betancourt discussed her views on rehabilitating former child soldiers in an October 3, 2012 article in The Globe and Mail (Canada). According to the article, Omar Khadr was captured in 2002 on an Afghanistan battlefield as an al-Qaeda combatant when he was 15. He later pled guilty to killing a U.S. soldier, and is currently in rehabilitation in Canada after 10 years in prison in Guantanamo Bay.

When the community is accepting, a former child soldier generally does well and is less likely to reoffend. However, when the community is accusatory, provokes the young person, or saddles him with negative reactions, “it makes it much harder for a person with significant trauma history to reintegrate well,” said Betancourt.

With proper support and therapy, however, “Young people have the capacity to redirect their life trajectories toward something much more positive, even with horrendous trauma histories,” she said.