The reintegration of former child combatants and children affected by armed conflict into their former or new communities is considered to be one of the most difficult challenges in peace-building.
A recent UN study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children reports that government and armed groups around the world have recruited tens of thousands of children, most of them under 18 (many under age 10) in the past 30 years. The report states that children need the intellectual and emotional stimulation that is provided by structured group activities such as play, participating in sports, drawing and storytelling.
Research has shown that sport may help children and young people who have been involved in armed conflict, by drawing them out of violent routines and offering them socially-acceptable and structured patterns of behaviour. Research on the reintegration of former child combatants in West Africa has shown that participation in sport helped to make a shift from a social context in which violence is ‘normalised’, towards one in which working together as a team is recognised and acknowledged in ‘peaceful and socially-accepted ways’.
The re-introduction of former child combatants back into the community is a difficult process and is sometimes unsuccessful. Reintegration requires community-based rehabilitation projects, which enable former child soldiers to access education, address the trauma and psychological effects of being involved in armed conflict, and to create opportunities for an alternative to violent conflict.