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Children, torture and psychological consequences

Original Publication Date: May 10, 2012
Last Updated: February 19, 2023
Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes

Alayarian, A. (2009). Torture: Journal of Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture, 19(2), 145-156.

Impact of torture on children may vary depending on the child’s coping strategies, cultural and social circumstances. In this paper the author gives a brief introduction of the work the Refugee Therapy Center does with children, discusses the effects of torture on children and presents a vignette and some examples of clinical intervention.

* The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)’s Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture dedicated Volume 19, No. 2, 2009, to the issue of children and torture. Here is just one of the most relevant articles for the issue of psychological evaluation of torture survivors who are children.

Note: The link below is to the article as shared by the Dignity-Danish Institute Against Torture library. You may also access and search the entire TORTURE journal at this link:

Article was reviewed by Victor Chow, doctoral student in physical therapy at the University of Minnesota in 2014.

Background: In this article, the researchers discuss the work they do with children victims of torture at the Refugee Therapy Centre and provide recommendations for evaluation and treatment of the children. Four case studies are presented which help to describe the special considerations used when treating child survivors.

Child torture in underdeveloped nations: The researchers state that child torture still occurs in many places in the world and that child refugees are most often tortured. Girls are often also victims of sexual torture and these instances are often not reported. Children experience various forms of torture such as physical torture, mental torture, and emotional torture. Often, children are tortured to punish communities or their parents. Many children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anger, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, and symptoms of anxiety following experiences of torture. The researchers state that children who are refugees, child soldiers, part of conflicts, laborers, or impoverished are at the greatest risk of being tortured and that it is important to identify these risk factors and provide services for these children. The researchers also state that by becoming more knowledgeable about the plight of child victims of torture, people can become more effective at participating in international efforts to address the issue of child torture, help children at greater risk of being tortured, and address those who carry out the torture of children.

Child torture in developed nations: Children not only suffer abuse in underdeveloped nations, but they also suffer abuse in developed nations such as the United States and European countries. In these countries, immigrant children are often detained without their parents and jailed with criminals. Western European countries such as the United Kingdom also often do not have adequate resources to help refugee children. Refugee children also do not only experience tribulation in their home country, but they also experience tribulation during their escape to other nations and their application for asylum.

Consequences and Implications: These refugee children are not only most susceptible to torture, but once they escape, they have difficulty assimilating into their new environments and have difficulty developing and growing.  The researchers state that the physical therapist must be sensitive and respectful of the child’s past if they have been a victim of torture.  

Case studies: 4 case studies of refugee children are presented in the article. They each had different stories and coping mechanisms.

  1. Erik was a 12 year old boy from Africa who saw his family raped and killed. He could not focus and did not get along with others and was extremely withdrawn in therapy. Sometimes, he would cry during therapy and was not very responsive.
  2. Another boy named Aran was seven years old and witnessed an ethnic cleansing in his village. He also saw his family raped and beaten and killed. At the Refugee Therapy Center, Aran had difficulty sleeping and often had flashback of his traumatic events and had suicidal ideologies.  He also demonstrated little empathy and was often violent and aggressive.
  3. Another child named Ivan was from a war zone and was impoverished and isolated. He would have to sleep in the barn with animals and his food was put in the yard for him to eat. He also had difficulty sleeping and experienced flashbacks and did not communicate much.
  4. Finally, Misha was another child who was forced to shoot another child and saw his mother killed as well. He also is aggressive during therapy.

Conclusions: In conclusion, the researchers provide background information concerning child victims of torture (particularly refugee children). The researcher also describes case studies of refugee children and child victims of torture and describes their experiences and coping mechanisms. With this information, the researcher hopes to empower readers with knowledge concerning child victims of torture to better equip readers to address this issue.

Pages 80-91 in the PDF.

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