Four-year-old Malak Saeed may not have learned how to put on his slippers but he can quickly load rubber-ball ammunition in his 9mm toy gun and hit the target.
There are numerous other children like him who are quite adept at using toys replicating sophisticated arms and weapons readily available at shops. Malak and his friends buy theirs from a shop in Bukhari Colony - a Pashtun-majority area in SITE Town.
“I asked my father to buy a toy pistol for me this year even though I had one last Eid as well,” said Malak, grinning. “We play police-and-thief games on the streets with these guns after Eid,” he explained, standing with a group of boys of his age holding 9mm pistols, Kalashnikovs and MP-5 rifles - all made from plastic - that use rubber balls as ammunition.
NGO Ranrraa is working primarily in Pashtun-majority neighbourhoods to create awareness on the adverse effects of letting children play with toy guns. They have put up banners across the neighbourhood so parents do not buy guns for their children, who insist on buying them for Eid. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS & RANRRAA
“It’s a general trend developed in these areas that male children buy toy guns for Eid,” said Malak’s father, Muhammad Ishaq. “Every shopkeeper displays them openly so we have to buy them for our children.” This time, Ishaq went ahead and bought a toy gun for his little one long before Eid.
Ishaq recalled that the boom in toy guns started nearly seven years ago and now every child begins asking for a toy gun as soon as Ramazan starts. Initially, Ishaq was against buying a toy gun for a two-year-old especially since he hated guns himself but he eventually gave in when his only son insisted. “He used to cry all the time in front of his mother for this pistol. I had to bow before him and his mother.”
Guns for boys, dolls for girls
A pushcart vendor under the Bacha Khan flyover, Allah Noor, has been selling these toy guns for several years. During Ramazan, people usually buy toy guns for their boys and dolls for the girls, he told The Express Tribune.
Available for anywhere between Rs80 to Rs300, most parents find it easier to give in to their children’s demands and buy them the guns. “Most children like the pistols with laser lights, which cost Rs160,” said Noor. “If a child passes once through these toys, he will insist on getting one until his father comes and buys it.” Noor brings the guns from Boulton Market in bulk and then sells them per piece.
A similar vendor on Masan Chowk near Shireen Jinnah Colony is worried about profits. “The sales of toy guns have increased and parents are coming with their children to buy guns but I’m not making much profits,” said Shamsher Safi, who sold more than a hundred toy guns in the past 10 days.
Say no to guns
NGO Ranrraa Development Trust has launched a campaign against this trend of playing with toy guns in Pashtun-majority areas of Landhi, Banaras, Old Sabzi Mandi and Keamari. They have put up banners and pamphlets in these neighbourhoods asking people to stop buying toy guns for their children.
“Our motive is to save our students by all means,” explained Ranrraa’s Muhammad Arshad Khan. “Parents think that these are just toys but they are wrong. In fact, their children are getting trained for crimes with these toys.”
The worse aspect of these guns is they look exactly like the original guns. If you are buying the gun, you are training five-year-olds to load magazine, put a bullet in the chamber and fire shots, he said. “After using the toy gun, a child can easily use a real gun.”
According to Khan, these children do not have alternative ways to spend their times as there are no parks or playgrounds, so they are attracted to such toys. “We have limited funds and we can’t spread our campaign throughout the city but we request the residents of the rest of the city to put up banners and create awareness,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2013.