‘Innocents Lost’ Examines Child Abuse Around World


HBO’s latest documentary, “Innocents Lost,” is a stunning expose of global child abuse, as painful to watch as it is important to know about.

Filmmakers Kate Blewett and Brian Woods make some sweeping charges in their narration (“Governments everywhere abuse their children”) that they don’t entirely document. But they do offer a devastating account of exploitation that touches many corners of the earth.

In the United Arab Emirates, they find wee camel jockeys, tots yanked from their families in Bangladesh and other spots to be given rudimentary riding skills so that they can bounce like rag dolls atop these animals during races held for visiting VIPs and regular tourists.


In central Russia, meanwhile, teenagers accused of relatively minor offenses are kept like hardened criminals in an overflow penal colony where Blewett and Woods interview a 14-year-old they say is serving a 2 1/2-year sentence for stealing a sweatsuit. He tells them he misses his mother.

Then it’s on to Togo in West Africa, where young children are treated harshly while condemned to menial labor, and on to Ghana where scores of young girls are said to become the sexual slaves of local priests “on the pretext of religion.” Next stop is Costa Rica, a favorite of U.S. tourists and, we’re told here, for Americans lusting for sexual quickies with young girls, many of whom are readily available for such work on the streets of relatively cosmopolitan San Jose and in the costal town of Limon.

Especially heartbreaking are the filmmakers’ visits to grim, state-run institutions in Greece, where children and other young people said to have untreatable mental problems have been “dumped out of sight,” and to Guatemala City, where street kids as young as toddlers are addicted glue sniffers, their vacant eyes, slurred speech and rubbery legs creating a picture that’s unforgettable.

Targeting hypocrisy, Blewett and Woods have children introduce each of these segments by reading from a United Nations’ document--the Convention on the Rights of the Child--that they say has been ratified by the nations singled out in this documentary. It’s an effective device.

What the filmmakers sometimes don’t do, though, is take the logical next step. In the opening camel jockey segment, for example, they point out that the United Arab Emirates prohibits riders under 100 pounds, yet never ask government authorities to account for the many they’ve monitored on film who weigh less than half of that.

While admiring the passion of Blewett and Woods, moreover, you wince at how heavy-handedly they lay in a track of oppressively sad music throughout, as if not trusting their strong words and pictures to stand alone.


And finally, even as the filmmakers rail against “the world’s indifference” to the plight of these children, they offer nothing specific to curb it. In other words, the information they present is deeply disturbing, but what do we do now? Wait for the next documentary, presumably.

* “Innocents Lost” can be seen at 11 tonight on HBO.