In response to a previous blog post (Thank Goodness for the Blog, 22 Dec. 2010), I received a comment with questions that got to the heart of some of the research I hope to do; answering these questions is part of the ultimate goal of this project. However, I do have some preliminary thoughts that I can share.
The comment, posted by Kathryn McCullough (http://reinventingtheeventhorizon.wordpress.com/), reads:
I wonder how the child soldiers are indeed viewed by others in their communities and how they view themselves, as they struggle to forgive themselves. I know in the West we tend not to hold minors responsible for their behaviour, especially when they are “forced” by circumstances to do what they do or die – but I imagine this might be thought of differently in African countries.
To answer, I’ll first reiterate that perceptions of responsibility and agency are a main focus of my upcoming research. What I offer here are just some thoughts. It is my basic understanding that responses to child soldiers returning from the bush are conflicted. The communities to which they return often have ambiguous views of the relationship between their victimhood and agency as perpetrators. My understanding is based primarily on knowledge of the northern Ugandan context, where the local communities to which they return are often the same ones from which they were abducted and often against which they acted, which is different than, say, situations in which children are used to attack enemies of their communities. About the Ugandan context, Betty Bigombe is reported as saying that she has seen outright hostility from communities towards returning child soldiers, usually because the community had been seriously victimized by an armed group. On the other hand, on previous personal research trips (on a different but related topic), I interviewed many who spoke of those is the bush as being “our children” and just hoping for the violence to end and for the soldiers to return home.
In terms of Western conceptions of responsibility, the context in which the criminal act is committed seems significant. While it is true that we often attribute less responsibility to those (adult or child) who are coerced into their wrongdoing, we need only look at the children held at Guantanamo Bay to recognize that perceptions of responsibility may change when acts against the state (America) are committed by foreigners. There are numerous youths who were captured as “enemy combatants” and held either in the regular section of Guantanamo with adults or in a special section dedicated to detained juveniles. Generally, these youths may not have been abducted and forced in the same way as some other child soldiers, but indoctrination at a young age should diminish responsibility in a way that doesn’t seem recognized by a system that holds young perpetrators indefinitely, without formal due process.