Eye-opening exposé on the permanently scarred children of war in “situations where violence and hardship are the norm.”
As a 21-year-old research associate for Refugees International, young-adult advocate London began his five-year immersion in the international world of refugee youth and child militia in East Africa, Thailand and the Balkans, barely scratching the surface of the estimated 20 million uprooted refugee children worldwide. London played soccer with teenaged “demobilized child soldiers” in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and with children in Kosovo, who describe the bloodshed surrounding them in grisly detail via drawings and interviews. Though each of the children London profiles is unique, there are many commonalities in their experiences. From Bosnia to Gaza, children have been positioned as political pawns in modern warfare for centuries. The chapters form a grim tapestry made up of what London calls the “protagonists” in wars. Paul, kidnapped into the Congo militia after a violent raid on his village, painfully regrets his time in the army and longs for education; Keto, a highly intelligent, self-confident Congolese boy in a Christian Outreach refugee camp, draws pictures and speaks plainly about his mother’s death from AIDS. Many more were forced to watch their families be executed or—like “Charity,” “Rebecca,” “Hope,” etc.—devoid of any adult supervision, subjected to physical and sexual exploitation (i.e., bartered marriage in exchange for heads of cattle). A long list of Thai and Tanzanian children, no families or future to speak of, discuss in sorrowful detail the complexities of living under the radar of their country’s warring factions. Thankfully, London offers positive updates on several of the youth. But readers will never forget the physical and mental damage inflicted upon their developing minds. Never sentimental or patronizing, these are harsh, numbing experiences.
Searing and heartbreaking.