Abducted children and youth in Lord's Resistance Army in Northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC): Mechanisms of indoctrination and control

Jocelyn T.D. Kelly, Lindsay Branham, Michele R. Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: Globally, an estimated 300,000 children under the age of 18 participate in combat situations; those in armed groups in particular suffer prolonged exposure to psychological and physical abuse. The Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) is a rebel movement known for its widespread conscription of children; yet little is known about this process once the group moved beyond northern Uganda. In this paper, we describe the processes related to abduction and indoctrination of youth by the LRA in northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with formerly abducted children, their family members, community leaders, and service providers (total n = 34) in four communities in LRA-affected areas of northeastern DRC. Inductive coding of transcripts was undertaken to identify salient themes. Results: Informants articulated a range of practices by the LRA to exert high levels of control over new recruits, including strict social isolation from recent abductees; control of communication; promoting new identity formation; and compelling children to act out strictly defined gendered roles. Witchcraft and secrecy are used to intimidate recruits and to magnify perception of the group's power. These methods promote de-identification with one's civilian and family life; and eventually the assimilation of a new language and identity. Conclusion: Indoctrination of newly abducted children into the LRA occurs via a complex system of control. This study provides one of the first detailed explorations of social and psychological mechanisms through which this is achieved, and focuses particularly on the gendered differences in the indoctrination process. Results support past findings that the LRA is a strategic and well-organized organization in its approach to enlisting child soldiers. Understanding some of the ways in which the LRA controls its recruits and the psychological impact of indoctrination enables reintegration programs to more effectively address these issues and serve the complex needs of formerly abducted children.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number11
JournalConflict and Health
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 18 2016


  • Child soldiers
  • Children in conflict
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Lord's Resistance Army

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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