In the early 1980s, Oscar Torres (search) and the other boys in his neighborhood would clamber up to the corrugated tin roofs of their one-room shacks to hide from military officers, who forcibly recruited children as young as 12 years old to fight in El Salvador's civil war. Boys who did not become soldiers often fought for guerrilla forces.
"That was our daily life," recalls Torres, 34, who fled to the United States in 1984. "We didn't think it was anything extraordinary."
Two decades later, screenwriter Torres was initially reluctant when Mexican filmmaker Luis Mandoki encouraged him to co-write a script based on his war-torn childhood for the film "Innocent Voices," which is being released Friday in major U.S. cities.
"He asked me, 'Why me?'" said Mandoki. "But by the end he realized, 'It's not just about me.'"
Before the film's closing credits roll, statistics flash across the screen about child soldiers forced to fight for national militaries and rebel groups. Although more than 190 countries agree that a person legally becomes an adult at the age of 18, the United Nations estimates that 300,000 children under that age are engaged in as many as 30 conflicts around the globe, from Uganda to Colombia, from Sri Lanka to Sierra Leone.
"It's become like a global virus," said P.W. Singer, author of the book "Children of War" and national security fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.