I have to declare a very strong interest. My husband’s play, Warehouse of Dreams, about the dilemmas of running a refugee camp, opens at a fringe theatre in London in November 2014. Being swept up in this event has led me to delve deeper into the topic of children damaged by war.
Every day, somewhere in the world, 30,000 people leave their homes to seek safety, and around 40% of the world’s 50 million refugees are children. They have lost their home, their schooling, perhaps their family, much that has been familiar, and are now displaced within their own country or are refugees in a foreign land. They may have witnessed appalling atrocities. They see their parents disempowered. Their past is destroyed, their future is unsettled and full of threats.
Then there are the child soldiers. The courage of cabin boys on warships is lauded in poetry and prose, and the Geneva convention allows children over the age of 15 to volunteer for non-combatant roles. Many did so with enthusiasm 100 years ago when going to war appeared preferable to the misery of living in poverty at home. What seems to be a relatively recent phenomenon is the abduction of children who are then drugged and brutalised into acting as front line soldiers or sexual slaves. Children are cheap, easy to manipulate and easy to dispose of when they have outlived their usefulness. It’s estimated that over 300,000 child soldiers are being used by both rebel and government armies in more than 30 countries, and the numbers are growing.