Childhood DeployedRemaking Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

Childhood DeployedRemaking Child Soldiers in Sierra Leone

Susan Shepler

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780814724965

Publisher: NYU Press


This book examines the reintegration of former child soldiers in Sierra Leone. Based on eighteen months of participant-observer ethnographic fieldwork and ten years of follow-up research, the book argues that there is a fundamental disconnect between the Western idea of the child soldier and the individual lived experiences of the child soldiers of Sierra Leone. It contends that the reintegration of former child soldiers is a political process having to do with changing notions of childhood as one of the central structures of society. For most Westerners the tragedy of the idea of “child soldier” centers on perceptions of lost and violated innocence. In contrast, the book finds that for most Sierra Leoneans, the problem is not lost innocence but the horror of being separated from one's family and the resulting generational break in youth education. Further, it argues that Sierra Leonean former child soldiers find themselves forced to strategically perform (or refuse to perform) as the “child soldier” which Western human rights initiatives expect in order to most effectively gain access to the resources available for their social reintegration. The strategies don't always work—in some cases Western human rights initiatives do more harm than good. While this book focuses on the well-known case of child soldiers in Sierra Leone, it speaks to the larger concerns of childhood studies with a detailed ethnography of people struggling over the situated meaning of the categories of childhood.