For most kids, childhood is a time of playing, learning, and making friends. But in more than 20 countries, thousands of kids serve as soldiers on the front lines of brutal conflicts.
Child soldiers serve as human mine detectors, messengers, spies, sex slaves, and combatants toting AK-47s and M-16s. Many of them have been kidnapped and forced into service; some join out of desperation. There are about 300,000 child soldiers worldwide, human rights groups say, and for the most part their plight has received little attention around the world. That changed in 2007 with the publication of "Long Way Gone," a best-selling memoir by former child soldier Ishmael Beah that tells how he was orphaned, drugged, indoctrinated, and forced to slaughter prisoners by government forces in Sierra Leone's civil war.
What to Watch:
Experts say that kids continue to be conscripted as soldiers, especially in Africa, in conflicts that resemble organized plunder more than ideological struggle, making it difficult for warlords to inspire the allegiance of adults. That makes children — loyal, easily manipulated, and in great supply — better recruits. The recent spotlight on child soldiers has helped create more awareness, but the exploitation of children in war is far from over. What remains to be seen is how far the civilized world will go to end this practice.
When Loved Ones Go to War
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