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Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War.

Innocents Lost: When Child Soldiers Go to War by Jimmie Briggs Basic Books, August 2005 $24.95, ISBN 0-465-00798-8

Afghanistan. Rwanda. Uganda. It's not hard to visualize any of these war-torn countries, with all their plight and devastation, and then imagine what it must be like for the young children caught in the cross fires, who are sometimes left homeless, parentless and hopeless. But then again, imagine being a child in one of these countries and forced or coerced to pick up a weapon and go into battle.

The occurrence of child soldiers is not a modern-day phenomenon. Young children molded for combat have been in existence since the times of the Roman Empire, the Civil War and Hitler's Nazi reign. Innocents Lost, however, brings the case into a contemporary context. Focusing on wars that many readers are informed of today, journalist Jimmie Briggs explores the lives of boys and girls, some as young as eight years old, who are fighting against oppression and suppression.

Briggs spent six years visiting five countries, including Colombia and Sri Lanka, to understand the involvement of many adolescents, giving some sense of reason for their recruitment. Of course, poor education, crumbling infrastructures, absent parents and lack of job opportunities play a part. Briggs interviews several kids who were forced to fight, and others who volunteered, to gain first-hand knowledge of their induction in to the "army." Many children are "not just used as fighters" says Briggs, "child soldiers in Colombia [and elsewhere] spy, carry messages, guard kidnap victims, and place bombs." Briggs's sedulous re portage is eye-opening.

He gives histories of guerilla groups and rebel armies in these countries, and he describes the conditions in which these young soldiers grow up. It is the first-person account by the children themselves that will attract readers. In one example, in the opening chapter, the writer relays an incident of a 16-year-old Rwandan boy who is forced to murder members of his own family.

This is just one of the stories of a youngster retelling an experience that will haunt him and surprise the reader. Throughout the book, the writer presents voices of several children who are under martial command, and it's their voices that draw on one's heartstrings, for it would be difficult for many of us to fathom how we, let alone our kids, would fare under similar circumstances. Yet Briggs's and his subjects' accounts aren't depicted for mere graphic impact; they are meant to shed light on a serious problem.

Briggs also includes current statistics on the number of child soldiers and background information about the international organizations such as the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers in London, the Center for Emerging Threat and Opportunities in the United States and Save the Children, which have taken up the cause to rescue these children from a life of risk, no matter how short lived it might be, no matter how they envision their future.

Briggs has touched on a subject that few reporters have written about in such a broad sense. His daring to embark on and share such a project is definitely worth taking notice.
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Author:Reynolds, Clarence V.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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