Did anyone say “We are Omar Khadr”? How many pray for those kids who are kidnapped to join jihad factories? Had that happened, a teenage girl seeking amity would not have the role of insurrectionist foisted on her to suit urban sensibilities.
It is disturbing to watch adults exploit children for their own opportunistic stances. There may be a huge ethical divide between those who stand for harmony and those who profess terror, but the moral paradigm is similar. Both pump up the young with ideological steroids and, in some cases, drugs to fight for contrived principles. Such manipulation has become routine.
Flashback: A decade ago. Fifteen-year-old Omar, a Canadian citizen, was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay after being captured in Afghanistan. Would the Western media carry a regular blog by a young person who does not fit into their blueprint, but is a victim nevertheless? Why did the BBC exploit a child’s vulnerability only to cater to voyeuristic readers? Why are Pakistanis so chuffed that Malala Yousufzai being shot at by the Taliban made it to the front pages and prime time in the international media, with pictures of her on a stretcher? This is wounding her again.
There is the larger question about children made to propagate religious or political points. It is appalling to see them attend rallies of which they have no understanding. Comprehension of certain aspects of life and mores comes with exposure and experience. Peace activism or dreams of shahadat are not learned in the womb. After the Mumbai attacks of 2008, there were billboards with faces of kids from every faith superimposed on the Indian flag. Not only does it go against the notion of demarcation of state and religion, it gives the young passersby a prototype identity even before they have had an opportunity to explore any other.
An 11-year-old girl who was hurt in the blasts at the railway station was a key witness. She limped to the court, holding on to crutches that helped retain her physical balance. What propped her, though, were the ventriloquist words she was mouthing: “Kasab should be hanged. When I identified him and narrated the incident to the court, Kasab didn’t dare look at me. I do not fear anything and will stand with the prosecution till Kasab is punished. You can click my photo and show my face in the paper. I don’t fear anyone.”
Is this courage or just canny marketing by consumerist consciences? Do we even pause to think about the consequences of creating or supporting such vulnerable ‘revolutionaries’? Parents bring their children for protest marches — ranging from a voice raised against terrorism to wearing Anna caps to fight corruption. How many of them take to the streets against child labour, paedophilia, incest? I would not support this, too, for it amounts to manoeuvring even if it is purportedly for their benefit.
Youngsters indoctrinated by militants is despicable. What about the armies employing them, from Sierra Leone to Somalia, Iraq to Ireland? The Brookings Institution’s statistics of 2003 reveal that “child soldiers participate in about three quarters of all the ongoing conflicts in the world”. In mid-2007, Human Rights Watch made a startling disclosure: “In over 20 countries around the world, children are direct participants in war. Denied a childhood and often subjected to horrific violence, an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 children are serving as soldiers for both rebel groups and government forces in current armed conflicts.”
Just think of the kids the US forces fought in Iraq and then took them captive to Abu Ghraib. Think about them in the Maoist Army in Nepal, as human shields in India’s Naxal groups, of them in Israel, of stone-pelting Palestinians now holding guns. These are representatives of their countries, not fringe groups. Who is praying for them?
Conscription at 16 is an accepted norm in many armies. These children may act as couriers or helpers, but there are instances of them ending up in combat zones. It psychologically affects them as much as belonging to militant groups. The ghosts of destruction and death unify.
Guess which countries have opposed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Somalia and America. The latter’s reasoning is that it does not believe in a treaty that bans the death penalty for anyone under 18. The US State Department’s Michael Southwick had said: “Some countries try to give it the status of a secular religion and say this is the only standard in the world; to me, this is an absolutely silly position. How people treat children in the world is a product of culture, it’s a product of religious traditions, and so forth, and to say that one treaty negotiated at one particular time is the be-all and end-all on children is a little bit absurd.”
In fact, the absurdity is when these cultural differences are not taken into account for children from other countries who are arrested by the US. What about the shootouts at universities and streets in the West, sometimes by immigrants — can they be justified as claustrophobia experienced due to selective freedom?
Britain has a kid spy network to keep an eye on neighbourhoods, even permitting them to shoot videos and paying them up to £500. According to the Harlow Council in Essex: “They are all aged between 11 to 14. They are encouraged to report the aftermath of enviro-crimes such as vandalism to bus shelters, graffiti, abandoned vehicles, fly-tipping, etc.” Is this not dangerous vigilantism? What if one of them thinks a guy wearing a hoodie looks suspicious and needs to be killed, as happened with Trayvon Martin in Florida? We won’t even go near the rucksack-carrying bearded one.
Surveillance masked as awareness by fledgling minds traps them in stereotypes, instead of freeing them. Why must the young be made to pay for and feed hungry adult paranoia?
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.