By Faris Kasim, Save the Children in Pakistan
“Many children are now afraid and show signs of behavioural change.” said one of Save the Children’s field staff who had conducted a group discussion with mothers of IDP families. “One woman said that her child is now eerily quiet while another mentioned that her children have lost their appetites.”
Children’s lives have turned upside down after being displaced from their homes in Khyber Agency since January this year. Suffering from lack of sufficient food, education and a safe environment, many children are exhibiting signs of psychological problems. Parents fear their children will never enter a school again while others are concerned that they will be forced to send their little ones to work – even six or seven-year-old boys.
Aged 14, guardian of four
Jamil is a slender 14-year-old boy. I met him at Save the Children’s health camp where he had brought his two years old brother for treatment against the flu. Jamil shared that he is now responsible for the well being of his siblings.
“There was continuous gunfire and bombing when we were leaving from Bara [town in Khyber Agency]. Someone told my father it was safer to leave at dawn but after ten minutes on the road there was a huge explosion. Three people were injured on the bus, including my father. He was bedridden for two weeks when we arrived in Peshawar. He’s better now but still cannot walk more than a few steps.”
“I am now working at a grocery store to support my family. I have four younger siblings and two are going to a government school nearby. I do not want them to leave school for work.”
Jamil himself was studying at a government school in Bara. He was a bright student and was looking forward to completing his matriculation exams.
“I want to go back to school but I don’t know when we will go back home.”
There are endless similar heartbreaking stories narrated by displaced children.
There is 10-year-old Ahmad who had seen the ruin of his school while fleeing from his village. He had also witnessed the destruction of three houses and seen dead bodies lying on the road. Ahmad belonged to a joint-family structure, where the families of four brothers lived together in a large house. Now they were all scattered and his family was living in a tattered but expensive two bedroom house outside of Peshawar.
There is eight-year-old Palwasha, whose baby cousin had lost her life when a bomb went off close to their home. She said she was laughing and playing in the morning but either the falling debris or the shock from the blast had stopped her heart.
100 years since World War I which made Eglantyne Jebb organize the first Save the Children Fund, it is sad to witness children who are still suffering from armed conflicts around the world. In Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia and other parts of the world, no crisis spares the lives of innocent boys and girls.
The world must realize that Eglantyne Jebb was not just talking about WWI when she said: ‘I have no enemies under the age of seven’.