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Child Soldiers in the Dominican Republic of Congo Proposal

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Updated: Jan 24th, 2021

Introduction to the Problem

One of the most devastating features of the conflicts in Congo is the practice of recruiting child soldiers, under the age of 18. Though the majority of child soldiers were demobilized after the official end of the war, numerous children are still recruited by military groups. Global human rights NGOs have perpetuated a wrong belief that all child soldiers are kidnapped or forcibly recruited, when in fact (xxx% or #) join voluntarily. Most scholarship in the field of conflict studies and peace studies that considers these voluntary recruitments suggest that child soldiers who join voluntarily do so because of socio-economic conditions (cite, cite).

These studies have not considered the role of social identity—including factors such as social isolation or cultural norms—in conditioning children’s motives to join armed groups in the first place. This research project studies the narratives of demobilized soldiers to understand whether or not their social identity was a factor in their volunteer recruitment as child soldiers into armed militias. The majority of these children come from societies where their self-identity is determined collectively, which makes them more vulnerable. They are trying to achieve honor and respect from their social groups, but they are not getting it because they are not being allowed to participate in a society, which now sees them as perpetrators and killers.

Therefore, the hypothesis that is checked can be formulated as follows: Social identities to a significant extent affect the choice of children in DP Congo concerning the participation in the military conflict. Some essential questions have been addressed when completing this study. The questions can be divided into three major groups: construction of social identity, decision-making process, the role of the community.

Construction of social identity

What characteristics are attributes of the successful person as seen by the people or rather children of the DC Congo?

What channels (TV, community, role models, relatives’ experiences, peers, and so on) mainly affect children’s understanding of social success?

How important is it for a child to adhere to this or that group?

Decision-making process

How much time does the decision-making process last?

Who participates in the process?

What are the major reasons for joining the military groups as seen by the child soldiers?

The Role of the Community

Is there any peer pressure?

Is the problem discussed in the community or is it taken for granted?

This study is based on the descriptive research design that enables the researcher to identify child soldiers’ and other stakeholders’ views on social factors affecting the choice to join a military group. Importantly, children, their families, neighbors, and acquaintances participate (directly or indirectly) in the process of decision-making. This research method is the most suitable for addressing the questions mentioned above. Social identities of demobilized child soldiers, as well as their role in the decision-making process, will be the focus of the present study. Importantly, to understand the role of the social identity of the child militias, it is crucial to pay specific attention to the social context. This context is first produced by children’s families. Therefore, members of demobilized child soldiers’ families will take part in the study. Secondly, civil society also has a considerable effect on people’s decisions, and, therefore, representatives of civil society will participate in the research.

The survey data collection technique will be utilized to elicit participants’ attitudes towards the problem. This approach will help develop questions that will be asked to the participants. Several focus groups will reveal their opinions on the matter. The participants’ narratives will be recorded and analyzed with the help of the descriptive statistics analysis. This method is efficient when it is necessary to describe samples and elicit recurrent themes in their answers. The independent variables in the present study are the ethnic origin and social background of child soldiers. To minimize the possibility of errors, the appropriate statistics software will be employed. The participants will be chosen randomly. To ensure efficient sampling, a sample frame database will be developed. Ten families from different parts of DC Congo will participate, which ensures the validity of the research. The representatives of the civil society of the areas will also be chosen randomly. The validity of the research will be achieved through sample validation. It is possible to note that the methodology described enables the researcher to answer the research questions and check the hypothesis.

Analytic Discussion of the Significance of the Problem

The problem of child soldiers in Congo is urgent and finding an effective solution is necessary for ensuring a healthy environment for the population of the country.

Currently, thousands of children in Congo remain members of military groups. Except for being recruited on their will, the children are often abducted and forced to serve as combatants. The terrific experience gained by children while being in military groups puts a huge threat to their psychological and physical well-being and serves as an example of the severe violation of children’s rights. While the boys are taught to be aggressive and violent, the girls are sexually abused and humiliated (Gretry 590). The children are largely supplied with drugs and forced to become seriously addicted to certain substances to let the military groups easily manipulate and control them. Killing and abusing become the accepted ways of behavior for such children and cause irreversible changes in their worldview and life perception (Kwon 367).

The consequences of the discussed situation include risks of children’s deaths and severe physical injuries caused by participation in military groups. While physical injuries can be treated to some extent, the severe psychological traumas experienced by child soldiers are difficult to be fixed and need continuous long-term treatment that is hardly available in Congo (Kwon 368). The militarization of children and youth leads to irreversible changes in their values and priorities and contributes to the prevalence of aggression in society (Terry 25). The future of the society consisting of former child soldiers is at serious risk of being unable to recover from the post-war crisis and build a strong and healthy community.

The Purpose of the Study

The purpose of my study is to investigate the problem of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and define the specifics of this phenomenon. I aim to explore how the knowledge about membership, loyalty, emotional involvement, and believes of “sameness” of their social group and differences with the outer group can shape the social identity of child soldiers in Congo and define the role of this factor in the process of militarization of children. Conducting an investigation of existing literature about this issue and analyzing the collected information will allow me to dig deeper into social norms of a collectivistic culture to discover the social aspect or recruitment of child soldiers in Congo and understand the causes and consequences of the discussed topic.

Literature Review

An Overview of the Arguments

One of the main arguments present in literary sources investigating the topic of child soldiers in Congo is related to determining whether most of these children are forced to become members of military groups or make this choice independently. Most studies show that though enforcement to participate in military organization and abduction of children is rather common in the country, a significant part of child soldiers come to these organizations voluntarily after making a choice that seems to them the most appropriate in the current situation in Congo (Brett, Irma 32). This notion explains the specifics of the social identity of child soldiers in the country, as the inclination to regard joining military groups as a good chance to become a respectful and influential member of the community, explains the social origins of the phenomenon. The absence of social stability and protection of the citizens plays a significant role in encouraging children eager to attain significant social identity to take actions that put a serious risk to their health and life (Brett, Irma 33).

Another argument largely covered in literary sources is related to the possibility of overcoming the negative consequences of experience gained by child soldiers while serving in military groups and changing their social identity (Palitza, 3). Many studies investigate the consequences of such experience, try to define the severity of psychological traumas, and attempt to suggest the level of effectiveness of methods used to deal with the implications of child militarization. The literary sources exploring the extent of serious consequences of being a child soldier help to define the direction of activities of the government of Congo and international humanitarian organizations towards changing the social identity of former child soldiers (Palitza 3). The analysis of the efficacy of methods that are currently used to treat the demobilized child soldiers is also common in literary sources and helps suggest further actions and understand social factors influencing the success of rehabilitation processes.

Analysis of Current Literature

Numerous abductions of children aimed at turning them into soldiers, there is also a big percent of those boys that decide on entering military groups independently (Brett, Irma 23)… This fact explains the social background of most child soldiers. The concept of enforced enlistment to military groups is mostly debunked by different studies. The concept of free-will participation in the army is supported by most studies, as lack of economic stability and most researchers describe stable sources of income as the main social stimulus for participation in military organizations (Brett, Irma 14). Trenholm et al. conducted a study aimed at exploring the process of constructing soldiers from boys in Congo (203). The results of the study demonstrate that poverty is one of the most influential social factors encouraging children to enlist in official and unofficial armies (Trenholm et al. 211). The researchers present many quotations of former child soldiers revealing that serving in the army is considered one of the most stable sources of income (Trenholm et al. 211). Social rejection faced by many children left without family is also identified as a powerful factor stimulating the interest in participating in military groups (Trenholm et al. 211). The findings of the study conducted by Gretry also support the notion that forced enlistment is not the most common way a child soldier joins the army in the Democratic Republic of Congo (588).

The researcher found out that such social background factors as poverty, lack of protection, and wide-spread belief that soldiers are noble members of society are the most common causes of children’s desire to become soldiers (Gretry 588). Gaining military protection against other rebel groups, being proud to wear a military uniform, and gaining the opportunity to leave the village and go to the capital or another major town are common goals of child soldiers (Gretry 588). Wessells explores the specifics of the social identity of child soldiers and emphasizes that it is largely shaped by the group identity of military organizations including the use of flags, songs, and memorials (52). Emphasizing that these means help the groups to establish the social identity of child soldiers and teach them to sacrifice for the group and be noble of being a part of it (Wessels 52).

Certain studies explore the ways of overcoming the consequences of children’s participation in military groups and help to discover possible ways of adjusting child soldiers’ social identity to the conditions of normal life. Former child soldiers tend to experience problems with social identity related to acting as if still in the army, addiction, social rejection, and reintegration needs (55). Rehabilitation identified the efficacy of group trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy with demobilized children in Congo (1231). Fisher presents an extensive analysis of the specifics of social reconstruction needed for overcoming the consequences of child militarization “in the aftermath of mass atrocity” (2). Though some studies and books aim to investigate the possible methods of normalizing the social identity of former child soldiers, there is still a gap in research related to the lack of evidence on the effectiveness of different methods of treatment. Therefore, my research on the social identity of child soldiers in Congo, its role in their participation in military groups, and potential ways of dealing with this problem will help to decrease the deficiency of appropriate information.

It is necessary to note that researchers look into the factors affecting children’s choices in other conflicts, and it is clear that there are many recurrent themes. Researchers stress that education and complete integration into society are key factors preventing children from joining military groups. Thus, Schauer and Elbert claim that military conflicts tend to disrupt children’s education, which leads to their displacement (314). Children become refugees or have to live in the area of conflict with no prospects for the future as they are unable to get the necessary knowledge and skills to obtain any employment. Apart from the lack of education and social integration, children often join military groups due to the existing pressure of the ruling social group. Thus, children in Asia (Burma, Nepal, and Sri Lanka) become combatants as a result of indoctrination (Becker 109). They are convinced that they must participate in military conflict. Somali is another example where the government utilizes child soldiers who join various military groups that complete missions assigned by the government (Nilsson 1449). The lack of schools is a part of this government policy to a certain extent. Importantly, child soldiers claim that joining the militia was a way to pertain to a particular group and “feel like” being “among brothers” (Nilsson 1449). The Somali society is divided into various groups that are often conflicting, which leads to children’s desire to join some group to feel safe as soldiers often abuse civilians.

Importantly, in Mozambique, over 40% of child soldiers are females who decided to become combatants due to their displacement. Apart from the inability to obtain an education, young girls are alienated due to sexual abuse (Schwartz 41). The girls exposed their experience, and the community did not want to accept them, even though everybody knows about the problem, and few people are trying to address the issue.

It is also important to add that a lot of effort is invested into the reintegration of these children into the community, but these attempts often fail. Jonasen explores the efficiency of some self-contained programs in Chad and notes that they often fail because there are often no communities to reintegrate with (324). Furthermore, the researcher emphasizes the need to ensure complete security and efficiency of refugee camps as the lack of resources and proximity of combatants who can recruit children lead to an increase in the number of child soldiers (Jonasen 324). Notably, there have been effective reintegration programs. For instance, Williamson provides insights into the program used in Sierra Leone (189). It is noteworthy that the program was comprehensive, and it involved reunification with families, psychological counseling, education opportunities, and so on. At that, the most significant downside of the program was “gender bias” as only a small number of girls received the treatment (Williamson 191). In Mozambique, only 1.5% of female child soldiers received the treatment (Schwartz 41). These former soldiers were likely to fail to become a part of society.

The analysis of the literature shows that the community and social identity play an important role in children’s decision to join military groups. The lack of educational opportunities is one of the central factors that contribute to the increase in child soldiers in many parts of the globe. The community often shapes the way children see themselves, and it is often common that becoming a soldier is welcome. Furthermore, the community often fails to provide children the necessary support and even protection, which leads to children’s decision to join a military group.

The Overview of the Research Design

Descriptive research design, “data of variables in a study which includes describing the data through means, standard deviation, and range of scores.”(Creswell 2014 p. 163) Helps to obtain the information that is crucial for devising hypotheses and proposing associations (Monsen & Van Horn, 2008). As the description “paves the way to prediction”, the chosen research design will help to predict the association between the social and ethnic background of children and their inclination to participate in the Army (Mitchell & Jolley, 2013, p. 272). Quantitative research, as a type of descriptive studies, appears to be suitable for the study, as it will help to collect data about the issues discussed above and organize it into valuable descriptive statistics (Monsen & Van Horn, 2008, p. 5). The choice of data collection and analysis methods should correspond to the chosen research design.

The Data Collection Methods

Gathering data about the social and ethnic background of former child soldiers in Congo can be done by using survey methods. As the researcher is learning French, which is the first language in Congo, it will be relatively easy to use such a method of data collection as focus group interviews. Focus groups will include family members of demobilized child soldiers and members of civil society. Each of the groups will consist of 5-9 people (Kwok-to Choi & Chan, 2013). Such survey data collection techniques as constructing necessary questionnaires will be used to create an appropriate basis for the interviews. Each group will be requested to answer a certain number of questions during the an-hour-long session. The participants will be asked to share their views on the discussed issue, and the appropriate records will be made.

Monitoring of narratives of demobilized children in Congo will also be used as an additional method of obtaining data for the study. The narratives will be selected based on careful analysis to identify certain features related to social and ethnic background common among child soldiers.

Analysis Methods

The collected data will be analyzed by reviewing the answers of the participants and identifying if they reflect common social and ethnic patterns typical of child soldiers in Congo. A detailed statistical analysis of obtained information will be conducted to demonstrate if certain social and ethnic groups prevail among former child soldiers. Descriptive statistics analysis will suit the purpose of the study and help the researcher to find the association between the investigated factors and the willingness to participate in the army. Descriptive statistics will help to describe the basic features of the data obtained during the study and provide summaries about the sample (Trochim, 2006). Such statistics will enable the researcher to describe what the data shows. Two variables, the social background and ethnic origin of former child soldiers, will be analyzed. As it is rather difficult to calculate the statistics when there two or more variables, appropriate statistics program should be used. The data will be put to the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) program to get the appropriate table of results.

A Sampling Scheme

A random sample will be used to ensure that the results can predict the features common to the whole population. A sample frame will be defined to determine a complete list of the population from which the sample should be selected. The creation of the sample frame database will enable the researcher to conduct a random number selection. The necessary information about the families of former child soldiers will be attained from appropriate institutions, and ten families from different parts of the country will be chosen based on the method of probability sampling. Ten groups of the members of civil society living in various regions of the country will also be chosen randomly. Such a method of sampling will help to prevent inaccuracy and ensure that the identified patterns refer to all child soldiers. The written narratives for analysis will also be selected randomly from the database of appropriate institutions located in different regions of Congo. The total number of chosen narratives will be twenty.

The assessment of the selected sample will be conducted to eliminate the risk of missing certain groups of population and getting subjective results. Sample validation will be carried out to ensure that the selected participants truly represent the whole population.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the Research Design

The main strengths of the research design include its suitability to the purpose of the study. The chosen research design enables the researcher to answer the initial research questions and check the hypothesis. Besides, such a research design enables the researcher to ensure that the data obtained during it is objective, and the results can be applied to the whole population. The objectivity of the results is of vital importance, as it lets the researcher make well-grounded claims and encourage further research based on already gained relevant information on the issue.

Usage of group-based interviews will help to monitor a big number of people living in Congo in a relatively short period. On the other side, the absence of an individualistic approach in group interviews can be defined as a weakness of the research design. However, careful and friendly communication with the individuals included in the groups will help to eliminate the risks related to the lack of individualistic features of the survey.

Descriptive statistics analysis will help to analyze the collected data and draw certain conclusions. The researcher will be able to find the correlation between certain social and ethnic groups and the level of children’s participation in military groups. The usage of SPSS software will help to prevent any possibility of making mistakes while calculating the statistics.

Usage of random sampling gives numerous benefits to the research, as it helps to ensure that the results are appropriate for being considered typical for the whole population of Congo. Though such sampling requires more time and effort, careful communication with appropriate institutions will help to overcome these challenges.

The chosen research design has numerous benefits and will enable the researcher to answer vital questions about the nature of the phenomenon of child soldiers in Congo. The gained results will help other specialists to suggest the appropriate strategy for combating children’s involvement in military organizations in Congo.

References

Becker, Jo. “Child Recruitment in Burma, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.” Child Soldiers in the Age of Fractured States. Ed. Scott Gates and Simon Reich. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. 108-121. Print.

Brett, R., & Specht, I. (2004). Young soldiers: Why they choose to fight. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner.

Fisher, K. (2013). Transitional justice for child soldiers: Accountability and social reconstruction in post-conflict contexts.

Leonard, M., & McKnight, M. (2011). Growing Up in Divided Societies. Bradford: Emerald Group Pub.

Grétry, L. (2011). Child soldiers: Our representation challenged by their reality. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy Int J of Soc & Social Policy, 583-593.

Johannessen, S., & Holgersen, H. (2013). Former Child Soldiers’ Problems and Needs: Congolese Experiences. Qualitative Health Research, 55-66.

Jonasen, Mary. “Child Soldiers in Chad: A Policy Window for Change.” Intersections 10.1 (2009): 309-329. Print.

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Schwartz, Stephanie. Youth and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Agents of Change. Washington: US Institute of Peace Press, 2010. Print.

Terry, F. (n.d.). Violence against health care: Insights from Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Int. Rev. Red Cross International Review of the Red Cross, 23-39.

Trenholm, J., Olsson, P., Blomqvist, M., & Ahlberg, B. (2013). Constructing Soldiers from Boys in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Men and Masculinities, 203-227.

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Williamson, John. “The Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration of Child Soldiers: Social and Psychological Transformation in Sierra Leone.” Intervention 4.3 (2006): 185-205. Print.

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