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Psychologist Describes Trauma of Child Soldiers

A clinical psychologist on Tuesday told the trial of Thomas Lubanga that former child soldiers suffer high levels of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Psychologist Elisabeth Schauer cited a study of 1,100 abductees in Uganda which found PTSD among 40 per cent of those who stayed in captivity for more than one month. Schauer, who has worked with former child soldiers and is the director of the German NGO Vivo International, said 27 per cent of the children who stayed with rebels for less than a month suffered PTSD.

Lubanga, who headed the Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) and its militia, is on trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for recruiting child soldiers during 2002 and 2003.

Judge Adrian Fulford asked Schauer whether those suffering from PTSD could have a reliable recollection of events and be able to narrate them in a consistent, chronological order.

She replied that they could not remember single incidents without the whole memory coming back to them. As a result, they were often uncomfortable talking about traumatic experiences, she said.

Schauer said child soldiers are cheaper to recruit and maintain than adults. They are also considered fearless and more willing to fight, and are easily indoctrinated because of their lack of ability to appreciate danger.

Prosecutor Nicole Samson asked why children were considered fearless. The witnesses responded that African society is very hierarchical and young people always followed the orders of adults.

“A commander would be a person of respect, of great trust. And if that person says this is what we are going to do and this is a good thing, a child is unlikely to challenge the decision,” said Schauer.

The witness explained that former child soldiers faced several challenges in testifying at trials involving their former commanders.

“It will be difficult to sit, face-to-face, with the person who used to make decisions over your life and death,” she said.

“It’s difficult to speak your individual truth as a child who has never been asked what you think … but just had to follow orders. It might be a challenge to give your own thinking. It might be intimidating.”

She said some children in sub-Saharan Africa also believed in the spiritual power of their leaders. She said it was possible they may fear that the spirit of their commander could follow them home if they testified against him.

Responding to questions from Samson, Schauer said former child soldiers had to be assured that they would not be punished because of their testimonies.