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The Relative Innocence of Child Soldiers

Mastey, David

David Paul Mastey

The Journal of Commonwealth Literature


child soldier narrativeschild soldiersinnocencechildhood


This article concerns the portrayal of childhood innocence — both moral and legal — in the child soldier narrative, a predominantly African genre of writing. I begin with an analysis of how these stories establish the moral innocence of their young characters through prevailing narratological structures that culminate in the loss of this innocence, usually by means of scenes in which child soldiers kill or sexually assault other characters. The purpose of these scenes and subsequent reflections on them by some child soldier characters is not to disabuse readers of their notions of childhood innocence, but rather to heighten awareness of it by drawing explicit attention to it during moments of duress. The narratives do not present innocence prosaically as an abstraction or a plainly stated character trait (Shklovsky 2015). Instead, they invite readers to viscerally perceive it (and its inevitable loss) through disturbing portrayals of violence. Scenes of lost innocence also serve an integral plot function in the genre as prerequisites for the rehabilitation of former child soldiers after their decommission. This narrative trajectory emphasizes the essential innocence of the characters in their roles as victimized children. However, in the process it also downplays concerns about their possible culpability as soldiers.


SAGE Publications Sage UK: London, England


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