Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing
Supporting children's mental health and wellbeing

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.2 Child soldiers

In countries such as Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and the Philippines where there is or has been war or armed conflict, thousands of children have been forced to become soldiers. Often, they are recruited as cheap labour and, because children often go ‘under the radar’ of adults, they can be useful spies.

This is a photograph of a child standing on a military tank.
Figure 6 A child soldier

However, as you’ll see in the video in the next activity, they are also trained to kill. In civil war, this may involve attacking people within their own communities.

Activity 3 Experiences of a child soldier

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

Watch the following short video from Unicef, which recounts the experience of James, who was taken to be a child soldier. James’ story is presented as an animation, but you may find the content upsetting.

Video: James – a boy soldier [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)]

Now consider the following questions:

  1. Do you think James had a choice about becoming a soldier?
  2. Can you try to imagine the feelings he experienced while shooting at people in his own village?
  3. After he returned to his village, what do you think the impact of being a soldier will have had on James, his family and the people in his village?
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


You may have decided that James did not have a choice about becoming a child soldier: he would have been shot if he didn’t cooperate, and there would have been repercussions on his family. The feelings that James would have had when he was forced to shoot his own friends, neighbours and even his own family are difficult to imagine, but again, he had little choice.

James had a terrible experience, but he was lucky to have been rescued and returned to his village. The immediate euphoria of being reunited with his family may soon have been replaced by feelings of guilt over what he had been forced to do in order to survive. James may have felt that he no longer belonged to his village in the same way that he did before he became a child soldier. Perhaps the villagers blamed him for some of his actions rather than the adult soldiers who recruited him.

Of course, this is speculation; how James viewed his future at that time, and how his physical and mental health was following his experiences will have depended on the support he was able to access, as well as the resources that were available to him.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371