At a glance: Lao People's Democratic Republic

Mitigating the threat of unexploded ordnance to children

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© UNICEF video
With the help of the ‘magic cricket’ teaching programme, UNICEF and local partners are helping children learn about the dangers of unexploded ordnances.

By Steve Nettleton

PAKSONG, Laos, 2 February 2006 – Sanchon and Andy have still not fully recovered from the day a bomb exploded at their feet. The two children had been tending to their family’s livestock when Sanchon picked up a round object in the grass.

He thought it was a ball. His sister Andy thought it was something else. “She said it’s a bomb. I dropped it and it exploded.” Both were hurt in the blast, and shrapnel remains embedded in their bodies.

Sanchon and Andy are part of a growing number of children injured by war’s terrible legacy in Laos: mines, bombs and other explosive devices, known as ‘unexploded ordnance’ or UXO.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
A de-mining worker surveys a field with a metal detector. Laos is littered with millions of unexploded weapons left behind by wars.

Clearing UXO is a slow process

In the ‘UXO Lao Work Plan 2003’ by Landmine Action UK, Laos is described as the most bombed country per capita in world history. Bombing and ground fighting in the 1960s and 70s left behind large quantities of unexploded ordnance in 16 of the country’s 18 provinces.

In Laos there are more than 200 UXO accidents per year, nearly half of them involving children. The bright colours or unusual shapes of some kinds of unexploded ordnance, such as butterfly mines or cluster bombs, can exert a deadly fascination for children. Tampering or playing with UXO can lead to a deadly explosion.

Children who survive such blasts often have permanent physical scars, as well as emotional trauma that haunts them for years.

Clearance teams working in Laos are removing and detonating unexploded ordnance. But it’s a slow process that’s expected to take decades.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic has not yet become a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, but there are signs of increased interest. 

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF video
Sanchon and Andy, who are brother and sister, were injured when a bomb exploded at their feet.

Help from a ‘magic cricket’

Here in southern Laos, the cricket holds special appeal to children. It is a ready source of food, and children often dig for them in fields that could hide unexploded ordnance.

With the help of a ‘magic cricket’, UNICEF and local partners are working to teach children about the dangers of explosives and reduce accidents. Educators dress up in costume and lead children through a programme of instructional games. Children learn how to identify mines or bombs and what to do if they find them.

Khanphachanh, 11, is one of the children who has learned about UXO from the ‘magic cricket’. She says, “I had a lot of fun, and now I feel safer because I know how to avoid unexploded bombs.”

The UXO problem in Laos is big, but programmes like this one will help ensure a safer future for children throughout the country.


 

 

Video

1 February 2006:
UNICEF Correspondent Steve Nettleton reports on the work to protect Lao children from landmines and unexploded bombs.

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