Mouzayan Osseiran-Houbballah

The Child Soldier Publication date : October 1, 2003

The existence of thousands of child-soldiers is one of the scandals of our time. UNICEF has estimated their number in the world today at 300,000 — a figure that has grown in recent years due to the increase in the number of civil wars. About thirty are currently being waged in the world, and some of them have been underway for many years. And as was recently seen in Kosovo, the recruiting of child-soldiers is not limited to Third World countries. During World War II, civilians made up 45% of all war casualties. Today, the percentage of civilian casualties can be as high as 90%. Child-soldiers turn the victim-executioner relation on its head. Victims become torturers, executing their parents, friends, neighbours and countrymen and women. Drugged, trained to torture, mutilate and kill, these 10-to-15-year-old child-soldiers are known for their extreme cruelty. In Lebanon, Sri Lanka, the former-Zaire and Sierra Leone they left terror in their wake. What happens to them when the fighting ceases? Why are they no longer visible in Beirut, or elsewhere? Why do they go into hiding — even when those who led them have taken power? Why do so many of them end up in drug-detoxification centres? Why do others continue to play Russian roulette? What does the future hold for these children who know nothing besides how to handle weapons? What can they pass on to others, besides violence? Mouzayan Osseiran-Houbballah examines, from a psychoanalyst’s point of view, the conditions and the processes that favour the recruitment and organisation of these youthful killing-machines. She describes the "trauma of annihilation" such children develop. After presenting several case studies, which serve as examples, she considers the type of psychological therapy it is essential to provide for these children — in the interests of peace.

A psychoanalyst and doctor in psychopathology and psychoanalysis, Mouzayan Osseiran-Houbballah is a psychologist at the Institut Médico-Educatif Henri Dunant and a lecturer at the University of Paris-VII.