Growing up in Guerrilla Camps: The Long-Term Impact of Being a Child Soldier in El Salvador’s Civil War


Dickson-Gómez, Julia. 2002. “Growing up in Guerrilla Camps: The Long-Term Impact of Being a Child Soldier in El Salvador’s Civil War.” Ethos 30 (4): 327–56.

Author: Julia Dickson-Gómez


Many recent wars are characterized by high levels of civilian casualties, a large proportion of whom are women and children. Furthermore, an estimated 300,000 children are actively participating in 36 ongoing or recently ended conflicts around the world. However, there is a dearth of reseearch on the long-term effects of war trauma experienced in childhood or children's active participation in armed conflicts. This article explores the long-term effectives of children's active participation in the war in El Salvador by examining four young adults who fought with the guerrilla army as children and adolescents. Comparing these four cases with member of the community who joined and fought with the guerrilla as adults, it will be argued that traumatic experiences were even more devestating when they occurred in early childhood as they destroyed the ability to establish basic trust in competent and nurturing caretakers. Becoming a soldier created additional conflicts as these adolescent soldiers behaved in ways they felt were morally incorrect. Adolescent soldiers were also not given the opportunity to develop autonomy and learn adult peace-time roles. Both the psychological trauma suffered as children as well as continued economic scarcity and violence contribute to these campesinos' difficulties in creating meaningful lives as adults.

Topics: Age, Youth, Armed Conflict, Civil Wars, Combatants, Child Soldiers, Gender, Girls, Boys, Health, Mental Health, Trauma, Military Forces & Armed Groups, Non-State Armed Groups Regions: Americas, Central America Countries: El Salvador

Year: 2002

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