I was up long past my bedtime last night because I simply couldn’t put this book down. It made me lose hope in humanity. It made me cry. It made me value how easy I have had it. It made me gain home in humanity. It made me cherish the resilience of children. But most of all, it allowed me to feel.
My favorite part of this book is that you live the experience with him. Until the end, there is no huge focus on hindsight. He rationalizes what is happening around him in the way they he understood it at the time. This allows a person, with some amount of empathy, to understand why a child breaks so quickly, the relief given by drugs, how killing is justified, and how equally frustrating the rehabilitation process is.
Throughout the book I was poignantly aware the Ismael Beah is my age. He is 28 right now. When I was an exchange student in high school, leaving home for the first time, he was beginning his rehabilitation process. He had already been a soldier for three years. He had already lost his family, his old life, his village and everything he knew.
The UNHCR (UN agency that works with refugees) defines the term:
The term “child soldier” has become widely adopted, and will, therefore, be used to cover any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity other than purely as a family member. It does not, therefore, only refer to those carrying arms, but includes cooks, porters, messengers, and those accompanying such groups, including girls recruited as concubines or for forced marriage.
According to Amnesty international:
Approximately 250,000 children under the age of 18 are thought to be fighting in conflicts around the world, and hundreds of thousands more are members of armed forces who could be sent into combat at any time. Although most child soldiers are between 15 and 18 years old, significant recruitment starts at the age of 10 and the use of even younger children has been recorded.
The US State Department further affirms that
Child soldiers are a global phenomenon. The problem is most critical in Africa and Asia, but armed groups in the Americas, Eurasia, and the Middle East also use children.
Educate yourself. This is a real problem that continues today. I wish that when I worked with the International Institute of St. Louis I had known more about the topic. I wish it had been covered in my refugees and immigrants course in more detail.