Title: The Impact of War on Young Ex-combatants and the Determinants of Reintegration Success: A Study of Children and Youth in Northern Uganda
Name: Chris Blattman

Assistant Professor of Political Science
Yale University

Year: 2006
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary: What are the impacts of war on the participants? The dominant view holds that these excombatant youth are traumatized, violent, social pariahs. While such alarming assertions attract much-needed attention and money to the reintegration of former child soldiers, the evidence to support these claims is weak at best. A growing body of ethnographic evidence portrays another view of resilience rather than disabling psychological trauma as the norm.

In the absence of representative data within and across conflicts, we have little sense of the proportionality and generalizability of any findings. This research considers new evidence from Uganda on the impact of war on young recruits and considers what that evidence implies for the long-term reintegration of child and young adult combatants. Northern Uganda is an unusual but important place to evaluate the impacts of child and youth soldiering and the meaning of reintegration. Tens of thousands of civilians have been forcibly recruited by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army, or LRA, over two decades of war; two-thirds of them children under the age of 18. In Uganda, LRA recruitment was large-scale, involuntary, and (most important of all) indiscriminate; so much so that abduction appears to be a chance event. As a result, a comparison of abductees to non-abductees years after the fact allows a tragically accurate accounting of the long-term impacts of combat and the appropriateness of current programming.

To investigate these impacts, we conducted a large-scale and representative survey of nearly 1000 households and youth in the war zone, including nearly 500 former abductees. The results suggest that the largest and most pervasive impact of abduction is on education and earnings, largely due to time away from civilian schooling and work experience. Among males schooling falls by nearly a year, skilled employment halves, and earnings drop by a third. Unlike males, however, females have few civilian opportunities and so they see little adverse economic impact of recruitment.

As expected, violence drives social and psychological problems. Psychological distress is evident among those exposed to severe war violence and is not limited to excombatants. The data, however, also support a growing body of ethnographic evidence that finds ex-soldiers to be socially and psychologically resilient. Community acceptance of former abductees is high, and they report levels of social support similar to nonabductees. Abductees also exhibit little difference in aggression. These findings challenge the conventional assumptions about ex-combatants and suggest a shift in our understanding of the impacts of war on children and youth.