Invisible Soldiers: Female child combatants in South Asian conflicts

13 October 2017

By CAP student correspondent Dot Mason

ANU PhD candidate Kate Macfarlane hopes to fill a gap in peace-building literature with her forthcoming thesis on the reintegration of girl child soldiers in South Asia.            

Previously, a number of academics have sought to assess the effectiveness of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration strategies in post-conflict societies.

But traditionally, research into child soldiers has focused mostly on male combatants.

Ms Macfarlane says there is a glaring absence of work into the experiences of women and girls, particularly in Asia.

She explains that, “commonly, research and policy work on child soldiers has focused on African case studies. But Asia has the second highest rate of child soldiers in the world.”

Women and girl soldiers have experiences different from those of their male counterparts. Recognising this is an essential first step to designing effective post-conflict reintegration strategies.

“It challenges conventional ideas of who a soldier is to have females fighting,” says Ms Macfarlane. “We know from looking at [African] case studies like Sierra Leone that often girls and women are excluded from these [reintegration] processes because they’re not considered to be fighters.”

And yet, girl soldiers often suffer greater stigma and discrimination than boys when they return to their communities post-conflict. 

In her upcoming project, Ms Macfarlane will look into the experiences of former girl soldiers in two case studies: the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam, Sri Lanka, and the Communist Party of Nepal.

Her fieldwork will take her to these ex-conflict zones, where she hopes to speak with former female combatants.

“I’m interested in their experiences of reintegration from a longer term perspective, in the social, cultural challenges that they’ve faced,” says Ms Macfarlane. “And I’m interested in the reflections of what we can do better to account for girls and women’s experiences of reintegration.”

“There are still limitations in the way we understand who a child soldier is,” she adds.

Internationally, a child soldier is defined broadly as any person under the age of 18 recruited for military purposes. This can include conventional fighters, but also those performing domestic duties such as cooking. For girls, there is also the danger of being trafficked into sexual slavery.

These kinds of uncertainties can translate into inconsistencies when it comes to delivering reintegration programs.

Ms Macfarlane hopes her research will contribute to a richer understanding of reintegration strategies that can assist in designing reintegration programs.

Ms Macfarlane will be one of many speaking at the “Information Warfare in the 21st Century” event. Presented by the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, the conference will host speakers from a range of disciplines and backgrounds, including a number of ANU academics and PhD candidates.

“Information warfare in the 21st century: media jihad, New Cold Wars and fake news” will be held on Monday 16th October from 8.30am to 5pm at University House, ANU. Visit ANU Events to purchase tickets and find out more.

 

 

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Updated:  24 April, 2017/Responsible Officer:  Dean, ANU College of Asia & the Pacific/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team