Girl soldiers of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE)

Girl soldiers of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE)

Challenging the stigma against former girl child soldiers

28 August 2018

Case studies on female child soldiers in Sri Lanka and Nepal by Kate Macfarlane find that the social stigma of being a former child soldier is harder to overcome for girls than boys.

Rarely do people think about girls when talking about child soldiers – let alone the struggles they face when trying to reintegrate into society.

Kate Macfarlane, PhD candidate at the Department of International Relations points out “there are few, if any, studies on girl child soldiers that trace their long-term social reintegration experiences in the South Asian context as child soldiering has largely been presented as a male phenomenon”. She further emphasises “there is an important gender dimension often missing from research and analysis of these issues”.

Kate is shedding light on the different reintegration challenges that former girl and boy child soldiers face in post-conflict settings in Sri Lanka and Nepal as they transition into their civilian lives and into adulthood.

She recently returned from fieldwork in both Nepal and Sri Lanka where she spoke to 80 former child soldiers from the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE) and the Communist Party of Nepal (CPN-M).

She conducted semi-structured interviews and found that the social stigma of being a child soldier was often worse for girls than the boys in their reintegration which affected their social mobility and inclusion, ability to marry, and find work. While the findings in Nepal and Sri Lanka are different, these were similar themes that emerged for female participants in their reintegration experiences.

Kate hopes that by speaking with former child soldiers, more inclusive conflict resolution processes that incorporate a gender perspective can be gained through a comparative case study of Sri Lanka and Nepal.

“Integrating the perspectives of former child soldiers into current research and policy efforts will assist future peacebuilding with youth and children”, she says.

In 2015 she started this research project because she was concerned “about the ongoing levels of violence and vulnerabilities experienced by children in conflict zones worldwide”.

Throughout her research, she also realised the scope of her study needed to be wider. “The more people I spoke to, the more I understood that I couldn’t study girls/women as a separate group. Poverty and poor education affects everyone and former boy child soldiers also face different, but equally challenging life circumstances in post-conflict settings”, she says. It is important that we also think about the boys/men when we apply a gender analysis.

To support her research, Kate has been awarded the Fox International Fellowship for the 2018-19 academic year at Yale University where she looks forward to sharing her findings.

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