Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Ginette Lafrenière

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


Child soldiering has occurred throughout history in the never-ending battle over land, resources and human rights. The earliest mention of minors in war comes from antiquity however it was not until the 1970s that the first international convention came into effect in an attempt to limit the participation of children in armed conflict (Wikipedia, 2009b). Unfortunately, children remain active in armed conflicts around the world as combatants, porters, spies, messengers, sex slaves and human shields. Human Rights Watch (2007) estimates that 200,000 to 300,000 children are currently serving in rebel and government forces in over 20 countries around the world. One of these current conflicts is the civil war, turned regional conflict, between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan military. This 23 year conflict has received much international attention due to the notoriety of the LRA’s brutality against the civilian population and the abduction of children into its ranks as combatants and ‘sex slaves.’

With hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in northern Uganda to assist civilians in general, and former child soldiers in particular, it is amazing to discover the limited impact they are actually having on the situation. Young women returning from the LRA with children appear to be a particularly vulnerable demographic in this context (McKay, 2004). The literature asserts that these individuals face more difficulty upon their return to society and remain invisible in research and practice. As such, this thesis sets out to understand the experiences of these girls and young women within the rebel army as well as upon their return to family and community.

Fourteen participants were interviewed by the researcher with diverse backgrounds including: academics, researchers, child protection workers, and two Ugandans who are of Acholi ethnicity, the primary group targeted and affected by this conflict. An additional thirteen transcripts were provided by another researcher based on interviews she conducted with women who had returned home with children from the LRA.

The major findings and contribution to the literature include the very different experiences of girls and young women based upon where they were taken. Individuals taken to LRA bases in Sudan lead a more normalized existence as compared to girls and young women who remained in Uganda. Many of these individuals return to their communities with skills and strengths that could easily be adapted to benefit the larger society and yet are not being tapped into and utilized. Instead, NGOs continue to employ universal or ‘cookie-cutter’ approaches which have very little impact. Reception centres for these children and youth are beneficial in the sense that they provide shelter and cursory attempts at normalizing their behavior. However, these centres, which exist to ease the transition back into society, run the very high risk of doing quite the opposite; of creating dependency and further disempowering members of the community.

This thesis describes the experiences of girls and young women within Acholi culture, within the LRA, and upon return to their families and communities; offers a critical look at NGOs working with these individuals; and provides suggestions and recommendations on how to improve upon successful outcomes for former female child soldiers.

Convocation Year


Included in

Social Work Commons