4 September 2004: Attacks on children’s schools violate ‘zones of peace’
© UNICEF Afghanistan/2004/Carwardine|
Bombed buildings and soldiers are part of the landscape for Afghan’s children.
By Edward Carwardine
In his latest diary entry, impelled by the tragic events of the past week, UNICEF Communication Officer Edward Carwardine describes how he sees the impact of violent conflict on children in Afghanistan.
KABUL, Afghanistan, 4 September 2004 – It has been a tragic week for children. Last Friday at the UNICEF office we watched, with growing dismay, scenes from the captured school in Beslan that filled our television screen. We realized that there would not be a happy outcome to this terrible siege.
Almost a week ago, in this quiet residential suburb of Kabul, only two blocks from where I am sitting now and writing this entry, a car bomb went off – blowing apart the offices of a security building.
The explosion also shattered many of our windows and sent small pieces of debris into our garden. Several people, both foreigners and Afghans, were killed in the blast and many more were injured.
The attack came on the heels of numerous security warnings which had put the city in gridlock for days, with widespread roadblocks and security checkpoints. But even these precautions had not been enough to keep at bay those who are trying to derail the reconstruction process in Afghanistan.
Children as ‘zones of peace’
While Kabul came to terms with the bombing, one of the worst terrorist incidents here in two years, another community in south-eastern Paktia province was mourning the death of 10 of its youngest inhabitants.
On the evening of 28 August, a bomb destroyed the Aka Khanol school in the village of Tak Nak. No one in the village could understand why the school was targeted. What possible motive could justify such an attack? For the villagers of Tak Nak, the only thing they could understand was that 10 of their children had lost their lives.
UNICEF has long argued that children should be considered as ‘zones of peace’, schools should be given special protection in times of conflict and that those who are most vulnerable should be the first to be safeguarded.
How sad that, in one short week, we have seen these principles so cruelly disregarded.
Scars of war run deep
Conflict – whether international, civil or terrorism-based – leaves lasting scars on children. In Afghanistan, where two generations have grown up knowing nothing but war, those scars run deep. Even today, the paraphernalia of conflict is all around. As I commute into the office each morning, I pass countless armoured personnel carriers, Humvees, tanks and jeeps filled with flak-jacketed troops from the international security forces.
Waiting for a gap in this militarized traffic to cross the road are groups of children, clutching their school books. The soldiers may smile and wave at them as they pass, but what impression of “normality” do these daily scenes leave on such young minds?
© UNICEF Afghanistan/2004/Carwardine|
Solider and child in the streets of Kabul.
Children have a right to feel safe and secure
Even a shopping trip with colleagues to one of the handful of international supermarkets now thriving in Kabul is a memorable event. When I lived in southern England, I can’t recall pushing my cart down the tinned fruit aisle alongside a fellow shopper carrying an assault rifle.
An hour or so after completing his purchases that same shopper will be patrolling the streets of Kabul. And that same assault rifle will be a constant reminder to the city’s children that there is something to fear out there, and fear is a great inhibitor of progress.
Children face enough fears in their lives today – fears about drugs, worries about passing school exams, and concerns about their families’ economic situation – without the added threat of bombings, hostage-takings or shootings.
A year ago, Kabul’s children said, in surveys undertaken by UNICEF and Save the Children, that their biggest concern was the heavy volume of traffic in the capital.
I suspect that concern about the traffic may now have been overtaken by other, more sinister worries.
We replaced the shattered windows here at the office the day after the car bomb went off. If the confidence of children living under the cloud of conflict is also shattered, it may take much longer to repair the damage.
Maybe the time has come to renew our call for children to be considered ‘zones of peace’. Let’s try to keep our children’s innocence and security intact.
After all, their lives are worth so much more than a few panes of glass.