Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Conflict Resolution

First Advisor

Darren Kew

Second Advisor

Karen Ross

Third Advisor

Sindiso Mnisi Weeks


The use of child soldiers is one of the most universally condemned human rights abuses in the world. Despite the many treaties signed and ratified by states with regard to children’s rights, an estimated 300,000 children are currently fighting in over 30 conflicts around the world. Africa counts around 120,000 children directly involved in armed conflicts, with around 30,000 in the DRC. Children join armed groups either coercively or voluntarily.

This research sought to understand the push factors that forced children to join armed groups in the DRC, and the pull factors that encourage them to get caught in that loop, making it difficult to escape due to the indoctrination they go through. In-depth interviews were conducted with 17 former child soldiers in Bukavu, eastern DRC. Emergent analysis was used to analyze data.

Research findings indicate that the combination of push and pull factors creates situations under which children see themselves as obligated to volunteer to armed groups. It also negatively impacts them by putting them in vulnerable positions where they can be abducted. These push and pull factors range from poverty, war, and education, to the loss of a family member, the search for power, grievance and greed and a sense of belonging and family. The findings also give us insight on the indoctrination process children go through once they join armed groups. They undergo rudimentary military trainings and are subject to practices including permanent watch over them to prevent them from escaping or bonding with other new recruits, the use of public punishment and executions, and black magic or witchcraft to deter escapes.

Children associated with armed groups are heavily impacted by the negative experiences they go through. It is crucial that all the belligerents to the conflict in the DRC take necessary actions to not just end the conflict, but especially stop the recruitment, training and use of any person below the age of 18. For this, the DRC government and partners like the United Nations, NGOs and other countries should work together to tackle the key factors that contribute to children being part of armed groups.


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