Can we spare the children of our planet from violence!

10888300_923223991023503_1413078134_nBy Dr. Ilmana Fasih

Thousands of miles away, in a candle vigil for the children of the Peshawar attack, the Mayor of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, Bonnie Crombie said,

“The children lost in Peshawar were not just Pakistani kids; they were our children, the children of this planet.”

I shuddered to imagine the paranoia of millions of parents in Pakistan on the day that their children will have to go back to school after winter break. And along with them, my mind wandered to the other children on the planet – the children who have lost their lives and so much more.

I couldn’t help but think of the 200 plus school girls that Boko Haram kidnapped in Nigeria. Will these girls ever be able to return to school again?

Last September, Gaza was short of almost 490 school-going children, as schools reopened after a 50-day war with Israel during the summers. Many of the kids who survived had lost their homes and family members. The Israeli kid who died after rockets were fired from Gaza was also a child of the same planet.

How can one not think of the millions of displaced children of Syria currently spending their fourth winter in refugee shelters, attending makeshift schools in the camps, while nearly 14,000 have perished?

My heart aches for the children who have been brutally beheaded by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) for not converting. Hearing the spine-chilling stories of Yazidi minor girls who are being sold as sex slaves makes me tremble.

“They will sell my girl for $10.”

This cry of a Kurd father from Sinjar haunts me to date. So does the recount of a 19-year-old  Yazidi girl who managed to escape:

“One day we were given clothes that looked like dance costumes and were told to bathe and wear them. One girl killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself.”

In a lesser heard Central African Republican, almost 6,000 to 10,000 children  have been snatched of their school lives and have been forcibly recruited as child soldiers, some being as young as eight-years-old. There are child soldiers recruited by Iraqi militias and ISIS too. Amnesty International reports there are 250,000 child soldiers world over.

Closer to home, around the time of Malala Yousafzai’s incident, 12-year-old Mehzar Zehra  was shot on her way to school and while her father became the victim of target killing for being Shia. I also think of little Rimsha Masih, who had to languish in jail, and Aitzaz Hasan from Hangu, who lost his life while averting a bomb attack in his school. Let’s not forget the Hazara kids who either perished or were injured in Mastung and other attacks on the Hazara community. Let’s not forget the hundreds of children who have died during the drone attacks in Waziristan.

Forgive me for not being able to enumerate every child who was lost to meaningless wars happening around us.

Echoing Mayor Crombie, each of these are children of the same planet. And it is incumbent upon humanity to ensure them a safe childhood.

According to a UN report,

“More than one billion children under the age of 18 were living in areas in conflict or emerging from war. Of these, an estimated 300 million were under age five and more than 18 million children were refugees or internally displaced.”

As the calendar flips to 2015, there will hardly be anything new for these children. Those who have perished shall sleep below heaps of earth with their innocent dreams buried in their hearts. Those alive will continue to bear the trauma of bare survival, feeling lucky to have lived another day, no matter how.

This is not all.

Beyond active warfare, vested interests in media, state or faith-based groups also subject children to psychological abuse by preaching warmongering and hatred. A child’s video on Memri TV telling tender Palestinian children about evil Jews, a seven-year-old boy from a madrassa who sings jihad  against infidels, or a 10-year-old boy from a Gurukul who spews hate and desires to combat Muslims – these are just a few examples, and not a concoction of my mind. Even on social media, we violate war-torn kids by sharing gory pictures of disfigured or dead children to evoke emotional propaganda.

Is this the quality of life the children of our planet deserve?

Why are we so disgustingly insensitive about how detrimental something like this could be to a child’s health and potential? Would you put your child through this physical or psychological politics of hate and violence? Why do we fail to think of the long-lasting adverse consequences of violence on their tender minds and bodies in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Do these children even have an idea of the geopolitics, war on resources or hegemony of sects or tribes, for which they are subjected to the worst form of violations?

We take pride in the scientific advances which have reduced the child mortality to rate more than 70% in the last century. We also brag about the human progress, having created the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which recognizes that children are people who have rights that

must be respected equally to those of adults.  The convention has been ratified by majority of the world’s nations.

A lot may have been achieved in terms of legislations, and with the slogan of ‘every child counts’. However, one billion children living in conflict zones is a grim figure. Several UN reports reveal a change of war tactics, in current conflicts, that have made children more directly exposed to warfare. This only makes the future grimmer.

Hope is rekindled, time and again, when voices like Satyarthi or Malala or Edhi  are recognized? The bitter truth remains that the scale of war industry is too huge to be countered by few sincere souls.

Wars are not going to disappear overnight, but we can at least mitigate their effects and ensure that they do not target children and women. It may be a wishful thinking that warmongering ‘vested interests’ may be put aside someday for the sake of our  children. One wonders what is the critical number of affected children needed to get that.

With specific concerns for the children affected by violence, UNICEF has put forth an Anti-war Agenda enlisting a series of steps, which they believe are realistic and effective to  improve the well-being of children in situations of conflict.

The report says:

“The Anti-war Agenda rests on the proposition that much of the tragedy befalling children is preventable. The evil deeds that this report documents are, after all, driven by human behavior. Children are suffering as a direct and immediate consequence of the decisions of adults. If conflict seems, at times, to be inevitable, there is nothing inevitable about children bearing the brunt of its consequences. Brutality, violence, rape and torture—all would stop tomorrow if the will to stop them existed, or if the rest of us devised means to compel them to be stopped.”

The details of the Anti-war agenda  can be seen in the link here>

There is so much to be done to improve the plight of children even in peace times, from combating poverty to malnutrition to illiteracy. Violent conflicts not only impede them, but divert the focus towards destruction rather than construction.

To prevent continued cycles of conflict, education must seek to promote peace and tolerance, not fuel hatred and suspicion.

Disputes may be inevitable, but violence is not.

Till we drive this idea home, the remarks of Garcia Machel, ex-representative of UN Secretary General  and widow of Nelson Mandela shall sound as fresh as ever,

“It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated, murdered and yet our conscience is not revolted nor our sense of dignity challenged. This represents a fundamental crisis of our civilization.”


Anyways, let us still wish a Happy New Year to each other.

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