This article describes a multi-year participatory action research (PAR) study with young women and girls who were formerly associated with armed groups in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and northern Uganda and had children of their own during the conflict and with young mothers considered by their community to be especially vulnerable. Following a review of the literature on empowerment and human rights, the authors use examples from the PAR study to explore how empowerment and human rights relate in the context of reintegration of the most vulnerable members of society. In this context, the realization of rights and empowerment are inextricably linked as part of an iterative process. However, empowerment has been a necessary starting point for this population to experience improvements in their ability to lead dignified lives and have their rights respected. Implications for child protection and reintegration programmes are discussed. © The Author (2010). Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.