Our guns, children’s shoulders

Published: October 12, 2012
The writer is an Indian author-columnist. She blogs at

The writer is an Indian author-columnist. She blogs at http://farzana-versey.blogspot.com/

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.

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Reader Comments (31)

  • Karachiwala
    Oct 12, 2012 - 10:20PM

    Although i disagree with some of your arguments, but your article is a brilliant piece.
    i will save it in my records, and use it as an example of Vocabulary rich article.


  • Safi
    Oct 12, 2012 - 10:31PM

    All is well but your picture is too frightening. Please replace it. . .


  • faraz
    Oct 12, 2012 - 10:34PM

    600 schools were blown up in Swat and all girls’ schools were forcibly shut down but Malala had the courage to raise voice against Taliban while living in Swat. Swat was under control of mullahs but this girl didn’t leave. Despite international recognition, Malala chose to study in a local school in Swat instead of some fancy elite school in a big city. This is real activism; she isn’t marketing anything for anything, education is her rightRecommend

  • sabi
    Oct 12, 2012 - 10:35PM

    I don’t know what exactly is the point in your article but there are some incidents which help jolt world conscience as in the case of innocent Malala.The overwhelming world reaction should be taken as a great gesture towards miseries of this hundred ninty millions nation.I don’t think that Malala is an ordinary kid but think her as a symble of courage and bravery and equally important is her proud father who stood against saveg taliban and didn’t leave his land because of fear of death.He stood behind her proud daughter and groomed her just for the sake of millions other childrens desperate to seek knowldge.I thank world community to remember us in this hard times.


  • Mirza
    Oct 12, 2012 - 10:55PM

    This is most perplexing, paradoxical and self contradicting Op Ed. What makes me even write anything about it is the attempt to equate the child soldiers, child bombers, and acid throwers to the democratic, liberal folks who train and raise their kids for universal principles and peace. In fact liberals are against the indoctrination of kids by the terrorists, extremists, let alone be equated with tyrants who force children to become soldiers and cannon fodder. If we do not take our children out to do the right things how would they learn? The Op Ed has picked up pieces of stories where kids are trained and forced to do wrong things including suicide bombings and murders of innocent civilians and spread hatred and equated them with the liberal education and training of mutual respect, peace, moderation, modernity and justice?


  • Sinclair
    Oct 12, 2012 - 10:58PM

    This is what is called a bait-and-switch. In pointing fingers, you turned the attention from the Taliban to the general public. Why now? At best, you just wanted to present a different point of view of this sad situation. At worst, you are one of the apologists for these beasts, or in some way carry a talisman for these guys being the victims. I hope the reason is the former.


  • Arijit Sharma
    Oct 12, 2012 - 11:06PM

    The author writes with her pen on fast forward. There is no seam in her narrative.


  • naeem khan
    Oct 12, 2012 - 11:22PM

    a really courageous article especially in the time of hysteria created by the media


  • Maria
    Oct 12, 2012 - 11:22PM

    Absolutely brilliant! A perfect rebuttal to the urban twitterati seeking to create a cult around the poor child and her tragic injuries!!


  • Arjun
    Oct 13, 2012 - 1:22AM

    So FV is now comparing Omar Khadr, a terrorist captured on the battlefield in AFghanistan, to the teenage girl who got shot because she wanted to get educated…

    At least she’s consistent…


  • gp65
    Oct 13, 2012 - 3:27AM

    @faraz, Sinclair, sabi, Mirza and Arjun have already said it better than I could. But cannot resist mentioning how disgusted I am that a 11 year old girl wounded by Kasab testifying in the court can be dismissed as marketing gimmick for some ventriloquist.


  • HP
    Oct 13, 2012 - 4:15AM

    @Arjun: Someone nearly blind to the reality would claim that Malala “got shot because she wanted to get educated.” She was not got shot for that reason. There are hundreds of girls going to schools in that area.

    She got shot because she had become the symbol of change from the decadent values promoted by the same folks who tried to kill her. Only a simpleton would read “education” literally in the attempted murder of Malala.


  • Sheikh Gabbar
    Oct 13, 2012 - 4:26AM

    I am surprised that the author who has presumably had a good education in India would not want a fellow muslim girl in Pakistan to even convey that education is her basic right. The author is similar to Taliban apologists and is doing a bait-and-switch to deflect attention from the core issue and unnecessarily muddying the waters by bringing the problem of child soldiers


  • varuag
    Oct 13, 2012 - 6:19AM

    While it was a credible effort to try to link multiple narratives, I think clubbing all children as a single entity and trying to generalize all and sundry, led to a simplistic stochastic theory that leaves a lot to be desired.

    Please keep in mind that the simplifying assumption here is that we are talking about children but there are also exceptional children. To not quote exceptions and club them with the ordinary leads to adulteration of the overtly simplistic theory. Malala to me does not seem like an ordinary child though author may have set the bar for exceptions too high. I agree what happened in case of the 11 year old witness in 26/11 was outrageous media tabloidism but to equate that with Malala is comparing apples and oranges. A corollary to the stated hackneyed theory would be that perhaps we should not allow children to be exceptional and keep them enconsed at home with cuddly toys away from the big bad world. Ain’t ignorance a bliss after-all ? We should not have allowed Martina Hingis to compete in professional tennis as a youngster because you know children are fragile. Magnus Carlson not allowed to compete in chess will ensure that the genius who is world no.1 is deprived of that status till he attains a particular age which author should perhaps elaborate in the next op-ed. Tathagat Avatar Tulsi should not be allowed to teach at the hallowed precincts of IIT Bombay since his age is tender. To paint the canvas with a single brush is offensive to the prototypical prodigal daughter………

    This reminds me of Steve Job’s convocation address at Stanford where he talked about connecting-the-dots. He utilized great tact to forge through a senile connection of dots that made sense to a fool like me but the author’s connection of dots leaves me speechless.


  • Thoughtful
    Oct 13, 2012 - 6:37AM

    Stream of consciousness writing that showcases the authors apalling moral relativism. Elsewhere in this newspaper is a picture of Malala on a hospital bed unconscious which is a clear invasion of her privacy. Using children in political causes is fraught with moral quicksand. However to deny that children have a valid voice is just wrong.The author will have us see all children as some sort of uniform halflings and halfwits,terrorists and brave witnesses all lumped into one.


  • Mohammad Amjed
    Oct 13, 2012 - 10:17AM

    U.S. statement on children is distressing. I am not anti America but war fought in regions of Arabia and S Asia have U.S. support. Am with the author because of the points mentioned.


  • Ymunshi
    Oct 13, 2012 - 12:07PM

    We are a polarized nation, I must say. When drone attacks, we march forward to Waziristan saying ‘No to Drones’ and when Malala is attacked we immediately take the next U-turn and scream ‘Launch the operation’.

    We are largely driven by our mainstream media who work things out for their own profits. The mainstream media never propagate the children killed and wounded by drone attacks and other operations and what misery they bring to those children when their ‘Schools’ (Madrassahs) in those tribal areas are demolished.

    I guess, we should think more before making up our minds. As we are too emotional we always act as hardliner whatever our opinions are.


  • Tch tch
    Oct 13, 2012 - 12:49PM

    Explains how “Moral Relativism” is different then “Double standards”. Also you are generous with your vacuous labels “Brave witness,terrorist,halfwits”. Covered all the bases did ya
    This doublespeak is getting tedious.Recommend

  • Salma
    Oct 13, 2012 - 2:44PM

    this person is simply talking about children’s rights – a life that doesn’t deny them the childhood. So plz stop bashing the writer and plan and advocate what you will for your very own child.


  • david smith
    Oct 13, 2012 - 2:50PM

    What was the point of this article? Okay, exploiting children in any form is unacceptable, but the extensive reporting on Malala, for example, may have galvanized a nation’s conscience.Not a word on this nor on the Taliban or TTP who with their “jihad” factories are probably the worst exploiters of children. Yes you did write “youngsters exploited by militants is despicable” but immediately after you mentioned the child soldiers in Africa as if that made what is happening in Pakistan less unacceptable. I did see the story on Omar Khadr but on al Jazeera, and I found your mention of the 11 year old girl in Mumbai strange if not, quite offensive.


  • Awan
    Oct 13, 2012 - 3:48PM

    I agree with you. We are a naive nation indeed. There have been at least 3 bomb blasts since Malala attack, dozens killed and countless injured. But, the whole nation is praying for Malala coz its the news that’s selling.


  • observer
    Oct 13, 2012 - 4:08PM


    The mainstream media never propagate the children killed and wounded by drone attacks and other operations and what misery they bring to those children when their ‘Schools’ (Madrassahs) in those tribal areas are demolished.

    Now that you have access to the ‘Mainstream Media’ do tell us how many ‘schools’ in those tribal areas have been demolished by drones?

    To begin with let us have a list for the last 6 months. Just names of places with dates would suffice.


  • afzaalkhan
    Oct 13, 2012 - 4:49PM

    Brilliant thought provoking article. Though I disagree with you on some points still made me think, so thanks for this.


  • Oct 13, 2012 - 5:04PM

    This is not just about Malala or even the children. This is about us. Is that why there is so much discomfort? Read the headline, the blurb, the beginning, the end, almost the whole of the middle. It is about us. Malala has been mentioned twice. I don’t see how anyone can take a superior position only because they say they are praying for her or uploading pictures of her wounded body. To me, this is insensitive.

    Re. the equivalence, again I don’t see how we cannot feel sympathy for children who are victims of fundamentalists, when we want to flaunt other kids to oppose that terrorism. You must have read that a group of clerics have issued a fatwa against those who shot at Malala. Tell me, will you support those clerics now? They are on the same side as those who are appealing for prayers.

    @varuag: Why do we generalise about other categories? The 11-year-old kid witness in the Kasab case was tutored. Others are brainwashed. There are indeed special children, so we must appreciate their qualities, not make a spectacle of them when they are lying hurt. It is okay to interpret, but may I draw your attention to the child soldiers?

    Thank you for reading but, honestly, there is much that has been misread.


  • Foolitics
    Oct 13, 2012 - 6:52PM

    “Did anyone say “We are Omar Khadr”? “

    Omar Khadr is a convicted terrorist even though a young terrorist. Why are you putting a terrorist at the same level as a peaceful activist like malala? Is this your sneaky way of supporting the Taliban?


  • Awan
    Oct 13, 2012 - 7:00PM

    US Drone Strike statistic based on research by a team of journalists of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

    (As of October 10, 2012)

    Total strikes: 347
    Total reported killed: 2,572 – 3,341
    Civilians reported killed: 474 – 884
    Children reported killed: 176
    Total reported injured: 1,232 – 1,366



  • saeed
    Oct 13, 2012 - 8:56PM

    She is front news , because Pakistani need hero. And goverment propagating her as hero.
    You are right the goverment using her shoulder but in a good way.


  • observer
    Oct 13, 2012 - 10:30PM

    (As of October 10, 2012)
    Total strikes: 347
    Children reported killed: 176

    Beginning when? I understand the period starts as early as 2004. And even though 1 child lost is too many, compare that with Taliban strikes on children and their schools during the same period, including Lal Masjid.

    And how do you respond to this?

    In the ongoing operation against foreign and local militants in Waziristan, the Pakistan military has suffered a tragic loss. It is doubly tragic because it has gone unreported and unremarked in the media. Last month, a helicopter gunship of the Pak military made its way to targets in Waziristan and received the coordinates for its strike just before arriving at the target. This is Standard Operating Procedure, coordinates are given out at the nth hour to preserve secrecy and security. As the pilot came into view of his target, he radioed back that there appeared to be a mistake in identifying the target. “There’s a mosque, madrassah, women and children here” the pilot radioed back, as he hovered over the area. He then turned in an arch to fly out of the area. Just as he was being radioed back a message that this indeed was the target, a group of bearded men emerged from within the mosque and from behind the human shields of the assembled women and children, and shot Rocket Propelled Grenades at the heli and brought it down. The pilot and his co-pilot were both killed.


    Who would you blame? The beasts using children as human shields or the army?


  • unbeliever
    Oct 13, 2012 - 10:44PM

    Why do we generalise about other categories? The 11-year-old kid witness in the Kasab case was tutored.

    ANY refrences, mam?


  • observer
    Oct 14, 2012 - 9:45AM

    (As of October 10, 2012)
    Total strikes: 347
    Children reported killed: 176

    Since you are interested, please read this too.
    Taliban sources have claimed to have anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand teenagers trained as suicide bombers, while government sources say as many as 5,000 teenagers have undergone training by militants.



    PS- The Trainer in Chief was killed in another Drone attack.

    The strike, however, claimed a significant scalp in the shape of Qari Hussain, a lieutenant of Baitullah who was popularly known as Ustad-i-Fidayeen, or teacher of suicide bombers. Circles in TTP had widely tipped him as Baitullah`s successor.



  • numbersnumbers
    Oct 15, 2012 - 1:01AM

    Study by a group of researchers WHO NEVER SET FOOT IN THE WAZIRISTANS!


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