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An imagination scarred by conflict: Afghan children face devastating effects of war

From my childhood I predominantly recall war, violence, killing, injures, burning of buildings and sounds of different jet fighters, rockets and landmines, which affected my way of seeing and understanding the world. There is no change in the situation for my sons and hundreds of other children living in the country, writes Majidullah Rasooli for South Asia Monitor.

Jun 6, 2018
By Majidullah Rasooli
 
After three decades of war, Afghanistan is still not a secure place to live. It is perhaps the most dangerous place to be born. However, after 2001, Afghanistan is considered to be a post-war country, but violence, suffering, injustice, inequality, illiteracy and poverty remain unpleasant reminders of conflict in daily life.
 
The notion of post-war Afghanistan hence doesn’t make sense. In addition to the many injuries from land mines and artillery, over 80% of Afghan children reveal psychological scars of war.
 
An important survey conducted by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the effect of war on children aged 8-18 in Kabul indicated that 41% had lost one or more parents because of the conflict, and over half of them had witnessed torture and violent deaths around them. 
 
My personal experience of what it means to be a child in a war-torn country forms the background of this analysis. Parents, families, writers, journalists, poets, schools and government and other non-government institutions are involved and responsible for creating children’s worldview in a society full of antagonism, hatred, and war.
 
From my childhood I predominantly recall war, violence, killing, injures, burning of buildings and sounds of different jet fighters, rockets and landmines, which affected my way of seeing and understanding the world. There is no change in the situation for my sons and hundreds of other children living in the country. War, violence and pain are still the everyday experience of people in Afghanistan, either directly or through the media. 
 
Types of family and socio-economic backgrounds greatly influence children’s worldview. We learn from our environment how to behave and maintain social order in society. Imagining worlds that have been created or are in the process of creation for children by their parents, environment, institutions and story books are all processes which take place between children and their environment. 
 
Parent’s beliefs and their worldview affect their children’s beliefs and world view. In creating a worldview for children there are certain things necessary like parents, care takers, teachers, adults, films, music, cartoons, institutions working for children and story books.
 
This research looked at the role of story books in creating children’s lives and transforming society’s culture and traditions. Story books, storytelling, magazines, school books and comics are not the only factors which shape children’s worldview. The play needs of children are also an important dimension of this process. Toys, computer games, parks, music and film are considered to be an important part of children’s life and worldview creation.
 
I was in my uncle’s house a few years ago when there were five adults between the ages of 65, 45, 33, 30 and 28 and 15 children aged between 2 and 12. Two people had pistols and they set up a sign and start shooting at the sign. The children were happy watching their parents firing with guns.
 
My son Muzzamel was with me. He is four years old, so I took him away from the guns and firing and got him busy with my mobile phone football game. I did not want him to see the shooting which lasted around 15 minutes. After they finished, I asked them how they were doing this in front of their children. Their response was simple; their children needed to learn these things because we live in a country where everybody should know how to use guns.
 
Plastic guns imported from Pakistan are common and the most liked playthings in the hands of children.
 
“My son is interested in gun and he always used to go to that room which all types of guns are there and he will start taking and touching them and trying to act as he is shooting and killing  Taliban,” said Nilofar.
 
It has become important for children to learn how to use guns and normal even for most parents. Nilofar prefers to buy a plastic gun for her son because it is not dangerous and he can play with it while, at the same time, she is trying to replace the gun with other useful materials such as story books, comics, cartoons and other playing materials.
 
The everyday experience of bomb blasts, war, instability and poverty affect the psychology of children and the worldview creation process. They do not have the required facilities for entertainment, whether indoor or outdoor, like public parks, cinemas and other such places which can have great influence on the latter stages of their life and personality.
 
In Afghanistan children are mostly deprived of the space outside home. To understand the real needs of children depends on parent’s level of education, socio economic background and the environment in which they are living. In Afghanistan, the kind of imagination for the outside world created for children by story books and parents are due to the conflict situation of the country.
 
In such a complex situation it is difficult to arrive at a children’s worldview constructed by the story books separate from parents and society. They are constructed by the adults’ world, which is loaded with the fear, anxiety, insecurity, and instability.
 
Children are scared of going out; even for those children going to school this is an issue. Children are affected by war and conflicts. As one of the children in an interview with Save the Children said, “I want to grow up as quickly as I can so that I can have a gun and find my father's killer. And I will kill him because he killed my father” (9-year-old boy from Panjsher Valley, Afghanistan).
 
The predominant situation in the country has made it a difficult task for institutions involved in children’s worldview creation to create an imagination for them that is free of war, violence and hatred.
 
(The author is a strategy & policy analyst at the Ministry of National Defence, Government of Afghanistan. He can be contacted at majidrasoolim@gmail.com)

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