Nepal suffered a decade long conflict between the Government and the Nepal Community Party (Maoist). During this conflict children were recruited by Maoist as combatants. During the verification process by the United Nations Mission in Nepal, these groups were categorized as verified minors and later recruits (VLMR). The VMLR were disqualified based on age (those born after 25 May 1998) and late recruits (those who joined the Maoist army after the ceasefire of 25 May 2006). The government of Nepal, in collaboration with UN agencies and NGOs, provided a rehabilitation package for their transition back to civilian life.
This paper explores protective and risk factors for mental health and psychosocial wellbeing among 300 child solders (verified minors), who voluntarily agreed to participate in the study, through a longitudinal study. Both the Hopkins Symptoms Check list and the Post traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (civilian version) were used to measure mental health problems, while the Generalised Estimating Equation was used to identify both the protective and risk factors over time.
Anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder decreased over a nine month period, while depression prevalence did not change. Social support, inter-caste marriage, low caste and residence in far western geographic regions were all associated with greater (risk factor) mental health problems. Rehabilitation packages were not associated with improved mental health, and former child solders enrolled in vocational programmes had greater post-traumatic stress disorder symptom severity. The findings suggest that strong social support is needed, as rehabilitation packages alone may be insufficient to improve mental health.
Funding & No Conflicts Declaration
The study was funded by UNICEF Nepal. We declare that there is no conflict of interest among the authors and the funder.