Alongside my role as Editor of warchildmusic.com, I also provided campaign copy, highlighting the plight of children in war-torn countries where the charity operates. This piece was first published July 2005. Sadly, the story in Afghanistan is much the same today.
War Child True Stories: Afghanistan’s Child Prisoners
Afghanistan is a wretchedly poor country marginally smaller than Texas with a population of nearly 30 million. But its position in Central Asiahas made it a target for foreign invasion going back to Alexander the Great in 329 BC.
In the 19th century Britain and Russia fought for control. After the British withdrew in the mid-20th century, the Soviet Union gained power, but were driven from the country by Afghan armies supported by the Americans in 1989. The civil wars that ensued during the 1990s saw the notorious Taliban emerge victorious. The rest as they say is history.
It’s been four years since coalition forces launched a full-scale military assault on Afghanistan in a bloody game of hide and seek with Bin Laden. During the attacks, the lives of many innocent civilians were destroyed. Their suffering continues to this day.
Following the US-led invasion, reconstruction efforts have been slow. Humanitarian agencies have withdrawn because staff members have been under threat of murder and in some cases murdered. Lawless Afghan warlords reign supreme to run large portions of the country and Taliban guerilla attacks continue to escalate. In northern Afghanistan industry is booming – the opium drug industry. In these parts poppy fields are a more lucrative source of income than wheat fields.
Decades of war and political uncertainty about their future has had a terrible impact in the country, especially on the children.
The obvious problems are the presence of land mines in residential areas, malnutrition, and the increased risk of physical and mental illness. Many children are left without an education, and as a result, their future prospects of earning a living are severely diminished. As a result, they may be forced by adults to take revenge by becoming a martyr.
But war has less obvious effects too. Increased divorce rates, violence and suicide, which leave children lacking support and confidence. It is much more difficult to rebuild social fabric than bridges and roads.
The breakdown of social ties is most obvious among the children held in adult detention centres. These children have mostly been rejected by parents and family members. In Herat, War Child continues to negotiate the release of these children, held without trial for mostly petty offences.
Aziz is 14 years old and lives inWestern Afghanistan. Two years ago he was arrested for stealing a pack of cigarettes. Unable to read or write, with no defence lawyer, and no juvenile court to try him, Aziz found himself incarcerated in Heart’s prison alongside the city’s adult offenders. The prisons do not seek to rehabilitate children like Aziz. There is no education, no training, and most alarmingly, no protection.
When War Child found Aziz he cried all day. Whatever crime he had committed, adult prison is no place for him and many other boys. Some were imprisoned for child prostitution even, grotesquely, for being victims of child abuse.
War Child has now helped establish a separate juvenile detention centre housing children between the ages of eight and 17. The weekly visits to the centre from War Child’s representatives are met with eager excitement. Here the children are able to access educational material, art and sports equipment. A cinema shows films every week. Literacy classes have been introduced and an English teacher is due to arrive soon.
Despite the tremendous progress made there is still more to be done. Due to strong social stigma, the majority of the released child prisoners are rejected by family and are without any caregivers. So they often re-offend – one child has been through the centre no less than six times. Currently there are no social workers or a structure for rehabilitation.
War Child is working to improve the rights of children. As much as it can, War Child successfully reunites and reintegrates as many children as possible. Approximately 40 per cent of the detention centre boys War Child has worked with have gone on to better things. Aziz now works in a bicycle repair shop, others work in the building trade. A few of the better off have continued their education.
More than anything children from the detention centre want their families and community to believe that they have something to offer. A recent War Child report revealed that many of the children had ambitious yet practical goals for the future. The Herat city boys said that they wanted to become doctors, engineers, teachers, journalists, actors and even the President.
You can help ensure the right for children affected by conflict to be who they want to be by buying music from warchildmusic.com. Spending just 99p on an exclusive download today can help give them a better tomorrow.