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“This is my story”: Children's war memoirs and challenging protectionist discourses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2020


Protectionist frames of children as passive, uncomprehending victims characterize the international architecture of responding to children in war. However, stories such as those in children's war memoirs draw attention to the agency and capacity of children to negotiate and navigate distinct traumas and experiences in war. Children experience particular vulnerabilities and risks in conflict zones and their potential as contributors to the solutions to war must also be taken seriously. Children's authoritative voices in memoir writing reveal the limitations of protectionist-dominated approaches and offer a rationale for taking the participatory elements of international humanitarian mechanisms and responses to conflict more seriously. Such a move may help address the comprehensive silencing of children's voices in the institutional architecture concerned with children in war.

The impact of armed conflict and other situations of violence on children
Copyright © icrc 2020

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78 E. Amory and E. Baines, above note 14, p. 3.

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86 H. Berents, Young People and Everyday Peace, above note 37; Berents, Helen and Have, Charlotte ten, “Navigating Violence: Fear and Everyday Life in Colombia and Mexico”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2017CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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88 Sanders, Mark, Ambiguities of Witnessing: Law and Literature in the Time of a Truth Commission, Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA, 2007, p. 17Google Scholar. Sanders’ use of the terms “forensic truth” and “narrative truth” is critically adapted from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report, and is discussed by Douglas in relation to Beah: see K. Douglas, above note 18.

89 G. Sherman, above note 71.

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91 Nick Waters, “Finding Bana – Proving the Existence of a 7-Year-Old Girl in Eastern Aleppo” Bellingcat, 14 December 2016, available at:

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93 It is worth noting that these books do have a diversity of by-lines. Both Emmanuel Jal and Ishmael Beah are the sole authors of their memoirs. Nujeen Mustafa and Malala Yousafzai co-authored their books with journalist Christina Lamb. Bana Alabed is sole author, but the book acknowledges that she received help from her mother and editor in telling her story. Evelyn Amory's book is edited and introduced by associate professor Erin Baines, piecing together notes from conversations with Evelyn to produce the book, which Baines explains in the front matter (pp. xvii–xxiii). Kate Douglas argues that mediation of text – whether via translation or collaboration – is often assumed to create “inferior cultural texts”, but it is important to recognize the bias inherent in such accusations, which particularly affect “young writers and writers whose first language is not English” (K. Douglas, above note 4, p. 307). If, as this article argues, children's war memoirs can offer a site for conveying children's experience of war and a way to better account for children's agency when considering responses to their suffering in war, the implications of adult assistance in authorship must be acknowledge and considered, even as they do not invalidate the narrative themselves.

94 K. Douglas, above note 4, p. 158.

95 See Douglas, Kate and Poletti, Anne, Life Narratives and Youth Culture: Representation, Agency and Participation, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016, p. 96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

96 See H. Berents, above note 65.

97 CRC, Art. 12.

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