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Child soldiers: our representation challenged by their reality

Lucille Grétry (Université de Liège, Liège, Belgium)

International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy

ISSN: 0144-333X

Article publication date: 6 September 2011




The aim of the paper is to present some events in the life of ex‐child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in relation to the social policy in place and the social representation of child soldiers and childhood in the country. The paper presents an overall picture of the different interventions used with child soldiers in Kinshasa, some elements of the social representation of the child soldier, and finally three stages in a child soldier's life, which bring into question those representations.


The study used a qualitative approach including general informal observation, semi‐directive interviews, focus groups based on drawings and inquired‐investigator exercises with 45 ex‐child soldiers in three towns in DRC. Finally 12 interviews, based on the image classification exercise were carried out with Congolese adults belonging to the middle class in Kinshasa.


The paper suggests that child soldiers are represented as passive victims, while the reality of their life shows their capacity for action and decision.

Research limitations/implications

Because of the continuing fighting inside DRC, part of the population is not accessible.

Practical implications

The paper includes implications for actions by the NGO sector or other kinds of aid organization.


First, the paper uses new tools for collecting data from children. Second, it presents a study of a subject that, whilst being widely popularized through the media, lacks adequate scientific research. Third, the paper brings into question the Western point of view of the experience of child soldiers.



Grétry, L. (2011), "Child soldiers: our representation challenged by their reality", International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, Vol. 31 No. 9/10, pp. 583-593.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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