This study contributes to what is currently known about the experiences of girls in fighting forces as distinct from those of boys. It is meant to assist policymakers in developing policies and programs to help protect and empower girls in situations of armed conflict and postwar reconstruction. Within the context of Northern Uganda, Sierra Leone and Mozambique girls in the fighting forces have suffered major human rights violations, especially gender-based violence. The rights of these girls are under threat from their own governments, armed opposition forces, and, occasionally, by members of their communities and families. At times, girls are discriminated against by local groups and officials, governments and international bodies that are unwilling to recognise their presence, needs and rights during conflict, post-conflict, demobilisation and social reintegration.

Yet, within the fighting forces, girls carry out a number of diverse roles, including as fighters. Current approaches to understanding the role of girls in conflict, where girls are understood only to be captive “wives,” “sexual slaves” or “camp followers”, are limited and inaccurate. Among the key findings is that social reintegration, especially of girl-mothers and young women who were girls when they were taken and who return with babies, is particularly difficult and these girls and their children are at high risk. Girls and young women in most of the study areas were also clear that access to education and training in skills would be the most meaningful contribution that national and international agencies could make in assisting their reintegration.