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Former Child Soldier Recalls Experiences in Sierra Leone

Ishmael Beah, who spent three years as a child soldier in his native Sierra Leone before being rescued by UNICEF, recounts his experiences in his new memoir, "A Long Way Gone."

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    In many parts of the world today, notably in Africa, the face of modern conflict is often a child's face: preteens and teenagers with AK-47's and machetes, often high on drugs, killing and being killed.

    The United Nations estimates some 300,000 children are exploited as child soldiers in 19 countries around the world. And last month, representatives of 58 countries met in Paris to draft protocols to prevent children from being used as soldiers.

    Thousands of these children have died, and many more have been wounded, suffering from physical, as well as emotional, traumas. A new book gives these child warriors a powerful voice, through the experiences of a boy who was 12 when Sierra Leone's civil war came to his village in 1993.

    In "A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Solder," Ishmael Beah writes of being separated forever from his family and joining a group of boys who wandered a countryside beset by violence and hunger, before being picked up by government troops and impressed into the army as a soldier.

    After three years of horrific fighting, he was handed over to UNICEF workers and taken to a rehabilitation center, where he began to get his life back. Beah came to America when he was 17, graduated from Oberlin College in 2004, and wrote his story.

    Ishmael Beah is now 26. I talked with him on a recent visit to Washington.