I do think this photograph can stand on its own, without necessarily knowing the context and background (though this can probably enrich it). The expression in the childrens' faces and body postures, and their relationship to one another, seem timeless to me, and could be expressed by children in many different circumstances, countries, times; certainly a sense of innocence lost, of some kind of hurt endured. The mask adds another dimension, a potent symbol, but you don't need to know about or think about how masks have been used by photographers/artists, there is the theme of comedy/tragedy, the depiction of their enforced public role, the hidden reality beneath the surface - all that comes across. I think it's very powerful.
Cate