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Violence in Pakistan Takes Heavy Toll on Children

The violence that has engulfed Pakistan since the U.S. invasion of neighboring Afghanistan has hit children especially hard
 
 
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 Since February 2010, Raees Khan, 15, has not been to school. Instead, he helps take care of his father, who lost a leg and suffered back injuries in a bomb blast that killed  117 people at a Peshawar bazaar in October 2009, and is no longer able to work as a mason. 


"I once dreamt of becoming an engineer, since I was good at my studies and topped my class," Khan told IRIN. He now works as a waiter at a restaurant. "It is fate. I am glad my father is alive, and I know my future has changed for ever." His younger brother, Ajmal, 13, has also dropped out of school and works at a shoe store. 


"I did not want this for my children. I worked hard to keep them in school, but my work as a seamstress simply did not bring in enough income," Khan's mother, Sadiqa Bibi said. 


Media reports point to a marked increase in  child labour as a direct result of the bomb blasts in the country. One report highlighted the plight of an 11-year-old girl who now drives a three-wheel bicycle rickshaw, as her father can no longer do so. 


"The acts of terrorism have taken a terrible toll on families. The government generally gives out compensation to the families of those killed, and the injured, but these sums soon run out," said Nauman Ali, a doctor who volunteers with the charitable Edhi Foundation, and is planning to set up an NGO to help blast victims. "There is no such organization at present, and no data really exists on the fate of families who lost one or more wage-earners, or have members who are disabled permanently," he told IRIN. 


According to the South Asian Terrorism Portal, run by the New Delhi-based  Institute for Conflict Management, there have been 37,765 fatalities as a result of terrorist violence in Pakistan since 2003. In 2011, there have been 996 deaths and 2,411 injuries in  bomb blasts across the country. 

Trauma untreated 


For some of the survivors, trauma is the main issue. The fact that it is poorly understood, especially outside major urban centres, makes life harder for those affected. "My brother, who is 11, was slightly wounded in a bomb blast that killed 36 people in May this year," Muhammad Saleem, 20, told IRIN from the town of Hangu in the Khyber Pakhtoonkh'wa province. "He still has nightmares about the badly injured or dead people he saw, and no longer speaks much. We don't know what to do," he said. 


Brian Moller, project manager for Médecins Sans Frontières in Hangu, whose doctors helped treat many of the victims, wrote in a  press release: "Two minutes after the explosion, wounded people streamed into the emergency room, where we managed the triage. We saw severe head injuries, multiple fractures, serious chest wounds and shrapnel in arms and legs." 


"Any child exposed to sights such as those at Hangu is likely to suffer trauma. The experience is one that would almost inevitably leave deep scars," said Faiza Yasir, a psychologist in Peshawar. "Unfortunately, very few facilities exist to help people, especially in far-flung areas such as Hangu." 


Hashim Yousaf, 10, has suffered similar, lasting trauma. His mother, Reena Bibi, speaking to IRIN from Lahore, says the child, who was caught up in the  July 2010 blasts at the Data Darbar shrine in Lahore, "was not hurt, but now refuses to leave the immediate vicinity of our home, even to go to school". He has recently begun seeing a psychiatrist on the advice of doctors. 


The fate of most survivors and their families remains largely undocumented. But evidence is beginning to emerge of the depth of suffering. 


"We received no compensation, though it was promised. Since my husband died in 2008 [in a bomb blast that killed 30 in a  Peshawar bazaar I have struggled desperately, washing and ironing clothes, to raise our three small children, while my eight-year-old daughter looks after her two younger brothers virtually on her own," said Abida Bibi.