Child Soldiers - War, Society and Humanitarianism in Africa: Context (HIH3209)

StaffDr Stacey Hynd - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2.
Co-requisitesChild Soldiers: War, Society and Humanitarianism in Africa: Sources
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

Child soldiers are integral to warfare in Africa today, regarded as evidence of the criminalization and civilianization of contemporary conflict. This module provides a rigorous historical contextualization of children’s roles in African conflicts, their experiences and understandings of violence, and a historicized reading of current evidence to develop a new understanding of child combatants. It challenges existing theories by analyzing the long history of ‘child soldiers’ in Africa, from pre-colonial slave raiding, to the First and Second World Wars, to decolonization-era independence struggles, to civil wars and today’s ‘War against Terror’. It looks at how new ideas of human rights and humanitarian intervention have shaped local and global ideas of ‘child soldiers’, and how they should be treated both during and after conflict. The module contextualizes child combatants within Africa’s ‘youth revolutions’, colonial and independence-era patterns of child labour and delinquency, the postcolonial crises of African states, and historical constructions of race and childhood in Africa. It also critiques changing patterns of warfare in the continent. In analyzing key themes of recruitment, training, combat experiences and demobilization this module will investigate how child soldiers are alternately depicted as ‘victims’, ‘perpetrators’, or social actors with agency in their own lives. The module takes an inter-disciplinary perspective on the study of child soldiers, comparing historical, anthropological, legal, humanitarian and political depictions of the phenomenon. Research-enriched learning is central to the module, being based on the module tutor’s current research which provides the first historical analysis of child soldiering in Africa. The module aims to prepare students to engage with current debates and interventions on child soldiering in international development, law, and media fields.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Evaluate the different complex themes in the history of child soldiering.
  • 2. Make close specialist evaluation of the key developments within the period, developed through independent study and seminar work.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Analyze the key developments within warfare, African societies, human rights and international humanitarian law/intervention .
  • 4. Focus on and comprehend complex issues.
  • 5. Understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Follow changing experiences and depictions of child soldiering across the period.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independently and autonomously study and work within a group, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Digest, select and organize material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

Full syllabus will be agreed between module tutor and student group, but topics are likely to include:
• Introduction to Warfare in Africa 
• Histories of Childhood
• Histories of Human Rights and Humanitarianism 
• Children in Pre-Colonial and Colonial Armies 
• Child Soldiers in the First and Second World Wars 
• Children in Colonial Emergencies and Wars of Liberation 
• Child Spies in Post-Independence Civil Wars 
• Children in the Anti-Apartheid Struggle 
• ‘New Wars’ and ‘Child Soldiers’ in the 1990s
• Recruitment and Training 
• Combat Experience and Navigating Warscapes 
• ‘Bush Wives’ and Girl Soldiers 
• Demobilization and Reintegration 
• ‘Right to Agency’ v. ‘Right to Protection’: Child Soldiers and International Law
• Victims and/or Perpetrators? Children and Transitional Justice 
• Are You Not Entertained? Child Soldiers in the Global Media
Key case studies will include – Sierra Leone and Liberian Civil Wars, Joseph Kony’s LRA in Northern Uganda, civil war in Sudan and Darfur, the Rwandan Genocide, apartheid South Africa, Renamo in Mozambique, Nigeria-Biafran civil war, Mau Mau in Kenya and the Algerian War of Independence.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities44Seminars (22x2hr)
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-7, 9Verbal from tutor and fellow students.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and written
Essay253,000 words1-8Verbal and written
Unseen exam502 questions in 2 hours1-8Verbal and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Two essaysTwo essays1-8Referral/Deferral period
Unseen examUnseen exam1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Brett, Rachel, and McCallin, Margaret, Children: The Invisible Soldiers (Växjö , Sweden: Rädda Barnen, 1996). 
Coulter, Chris, Bush Wives and Girl Soldiers: Women’s Lives through War and Peace in Sierra Leone (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 2009).
Denov, Myriam, Child Soldiers: Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010). 
Drumbl, Mark A., Reimagining Child Soldiers in International Law and Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012). 
Gates, Scott & Reich, Simon, Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in Fractured States (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009). 
Honwana, Alcinda, Child Soldiers in Africa (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 2006).
Moynagh, Maureen, ‘Human Rights, Child Soldier Narratives and the Problem of Form’, Research in African Literatures, 42.2 (2011), 39-59.
Peters, Krijn & Paul Richards, ‘“Why We Fight”: Voices of Youth Combatants in Sierra Leone’, Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 68.2 (1998), 183-210. 
Rosen, David M., Armies of the Young: Child Soldiers in War and Terrorism (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2005).
Ryan, Christine, Children of War: Child Soldiers as Victims and Participants in the Sudan Civil War (London: I. B. Taurus, 2012). 
Utas, Mats and Magnus Jörgel, ‘West Side Boys: Military Navigation in the Sierra Leone Civil War’, Journal of Modern African Studies, 46.3 (2008), 487–511.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Web based and electronic resources: 
Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 
Human Rights Watch,
Child Soldiers International,
The Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers’ Initiative,
United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

History, War, Children, Soldiers, Human Rights, Humanitarianism, Africa, Civil War