I just read a second article – written in 2007 – talking about former child soldiers from Liberia joining gangs in Staten Island in the U.S. A quote:
According to Staten Island community activist Rufus Arkoi, around one-fifth of the hundreds of young refugees he has met while working as a youth counselor and soccer coach were once boy soldiers.
We need to figure out ways to identify and reach these kids before they are drawn into these gangs. While aid organizations have done a laudable job of rescuing and then placing these children back with family members or in foster care in countries such as the U.S., the care needs to continue after they are placed. There is obviously some vital piece missing in rescuing and reassimilating these children if they are feeling safer in the arms of violent street gangs.
More from the article:
The war left many without the education and resources necessary to fit in and succeed, explains Jacob Massaquoi, cofounder of the African Refuge, part of a small nonprofit that provides drop-in counseling for immigrant kids and families. “They have come from a very communal world to a socially isolated one.”
Some teens found that the survival skills they’d learned in the bush could help them assimilate—into gang culture.
Bravo to the local community groups working to assist these kids and helping them to avoid gang life.
One thing I keep reading over and over again is that these ‘young victims of war’ have a difficult time relating to other young people in their communities, and so instead they bury their stories, emotions, anger, past. Or they find other outlets for their internalized thoughts and memories – such as gangs.
Part of the problem seems tied into the fact that many former child soldiers do not want identify themselves as such, for various reasons. Fear of being blamed by others, feelings of guilt, worries of retaliation.
First, the stigma associated with the term ‘former child soldier’ needs to be completely removed for these kids. We need to allow them to feel free to tell their stories to the world, without judgement. And second, lumping them into the broader heading of ‘young victims of war’ – in an effort to remove the stigma of the label of ‘former child soldier’ – may prevent them from getting the specialized, professional help they desperately need.
Former child soldiers should not have to feel guilty for being former child soldiers.