By Zubeida Mustafa
THE State of Pakistan’s Children 2012 quotes from the UN Secretary General’s Report on Children in Armed Conflicts: “In 2011 there were 11 incidents of children being used in suicide bomb attacks by militant groups operating in the country (Pakistan). The attackers included 10 boys some as young as 13 years and a nine-year old girl.”
The use of children in armed conflicts to fight the heinous wars of unscrupulous men has emerged as quite a common phenomenon worldwide. Young children are trained to use the gun and they are desensitised to human suffering so that life has no value for them. That is why they kill with impunity. Moreover, children are themselves victims of the violence and militancy that now grip Pakistan.
This is something very disturbing. It means that the cycle of violence will be perpetuated ad infinitum. Children who grow up in a violent environment become violent adults who accept death and destruction as something normal. Thus the cycle goes on from one generation to the next. This is not an ideal scenario for any society.
Worse is the case of children being used as suicide bombers. It makes one shudder to think of the child’s psychological state as he is prepared for a suicide mission with the deadly vest being slipped over his body and then being forcibly dispatched on his final journey under the vigilant eye of his handler. Suicide is an unnatural act. To coerce a child into it is the cruellest thing to do.
Hussain Nadim, a professor of political science and international security at NUST and at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad, who is interested in the psychology of suicide bombers, has met a number of could-have-been-child suicide bombers at a rehabilitation facility in northern Pakistan.
His findings are revealing because they show why Pakistan’s suicide bombers’ market — to use Nadim’s words — comprises mainly youth under the age of 18. He confirmed what he wrote in Foreign Policy of Oct 9, 2012, that most of the children he met were not motivated by dreams of paradise. Hardly any child was imbued with anti-imperialist sentiments.
Then what was the motive that drove these children to commit such a horrible deed? That is the most tragic part of the story. The children who became instrumental in killing scores of people and themselves as well did not actually want to do it. They were coerced.
According to Hussain Nadim, a trait he found common in all these children was their lack of awareness of the world beyond their village. They had no access to television and were quite isolated, having no knowledge of the forces driving events in our part of the world. If there was one sentiment that determined their behaviour, it was fear. It came to light that during the period of their confinement they had been shown videos of women being raped and throats of men being slit. This exposure had made them overly anxious. Nadim believes that half the children had been lured by their abductors while others had been kidnapped. One can presume that those who were lured were attracted by false promises of ‘goodies’ and not by any ideology.
It was obvious that the children were being used as tools of crime since being weak and helpless they were easier to control and manipulate.
This description fits in with my own conclusions drawn from my observations and random interviews with people affected by violence. Seclusion which isolates a person from society can be as psychologically damaging as active indoctrination of a person for evil ends. Since children are easier to abduct or to lure, they readily fall victim to the perverse ways of the militants. Their psyche does not provide them with protection against fear and insecurity that knowledge, education and family love and support do. These children are already vulnerable to mental blackmail when they are taken away from home. Physically unable to resist their captors, they have to submit to their handlers.
This reminds me of the women from Swat I met in Baldia when they were displaced from their homes at the time of the army action in 2009. They told me that in their chadar aur chardiwari culture women are forced to stay home which makes them lonely and anxious. Their only entertainment was the FM radio broadcasts by Mulla Fazlullah of the Pakistani Taliban.
They found him to be a charismatic speaker and were enticed by his sweet talk. So taken in were they that they actually sent their young sons to work for the Taliban. They donated their gold jewellery to the ‘cause’. When the massacre took place at the town centre — later it earned notoriety as Khooni Chowk — the women realised what the true intentions of ‘Mullah Radio’ were. It was too late by then. Many lost their sons in this manner.
Children need the warmth and security of a home and their family for them to grow up to be adults with well-adjusted personalities. Women need to be educated to understand this fact.
The tragedy of this country is its failure to provide physical and emotional protection to its children. The State of Pakistan’s Children reports have year after year been shedding light on this problem. True, only a few children become suicide bombers. But the majority falls victim to trafficking, domestic labour, sexual abuse and corporal punishment. They become insidious agents of society’s destruction.