Children are considered as the future of any nation and are like sponges they absorb everything that they experience at that time. All their mental growth that develops in the first 5 years of life moves with them during the entire lifetime. FATA is a region where around 55% of the total population is aged between 0 – 19 years of age. Of this total, 11% are in the age bracket of 0 – 4, 17% are 4 – 9 years of age while the remaining lie in the age bracket of 10 – 19.
Since the War on terror started and Pakistan entered into the war, the population of FATA has been facing many problems in the form of terrorism, military operations, drone strikes and displacements. All these activities have imprinted severe impact on the physical and mental health of the population. Children especially aged up to 9 years are the most vulnerable to such activities.
The security situation in FATA has led to many mental problems including phobias, nightmares, stress, depression and fear. The children feel insecure and helpless when they see violent activities that are out of control of them as well as their families. Moreover, children who have not been born in a war zone have more difficulty in coping with the situation as compared to those who are born in such time. However, children who have seen such situations since birth adapt violent and aggressive behavior and suicidal attempts become common in such children.
According to psychologists, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs in children after witnessing life threatening events like community violence, domestic violence and / or war. Due to war on terror and military operations going on in FATA, the children have seen it all. Moreover, feeling of fear and a sense of insecurity and helplessness is also caused by displacement. According to the statistics, around 757,996 people have been displaced due to the ongoing war since 2008. More than 50% of the population consists of children.
According to a research, death of parents or separation due to any reason also has a negative impact on the behaviors of a child. Children who have lost their parents especially in war like situations become more vulnerable to suicidal attempts during the first three years of the their death. Also such children become over-dependent on others and handicapped in their social relationships and education etc.
Children who have been injured badly during war-like situations and handicapped also become mentally instable. Such children – as they grow – think of themselves as a burden on the society and do not value lives of others as well. With such background there are chances that such children might join any terrorist organization if they are not fully handicapped. Hence they use the remaining parts of the body in for a destructive cause.
A big issue that has emerged in FATA is the confusion into the minds of residents of FATA especially children is whether what is happening in their region is right of wrong. Some support drone strikes and military operation in the area while others support militants. Overall the society is confused. All these destructive events have caused some deteriorating effects on the psyche of the society especially the youth of the area.
On one hand terrorists are blowing off schools and educational institutions and on the other hand the Madrassas and religious education providers are threatened by the American-Led NATO forces in Afghanistan. This discourages the children to attend educational institutions and hence the children are deprived of education. Similarly only 22% of the total IDP children of FATA have been enrolled in educational institutions. This lack of education is not only depriving the children of FATA from being educated but the country Pakistan will also face the burden of uneducated workforce in the coming years.
As a result of bomb blasts, firings, mass killings and other destructive events openly going on in FATA coupled with lack of education, there have been many social changes occurring in the FATA region. Many children have become victims of fear. Children especially girls do not leave their houses as they fear of a militant attack, a military strike of even a drone attack. This keeps children from going to friends and hence their social activities are disrupted. Similarly the fear of destruction and the observation that only the people who have guns and tanks have the right to live many children in the tribal areas desire either to join the Armed forces of if it is not possible then to join any militant organization.
Similarly the traditions of the tribal region have significantly changed. The traditional Tapay, which consisted of songs with words like flowers and roses have changed to guns and bombs. Now children sing songs that have an element of guns, bombs and violence in them . similarly other traditions have become more aggressive.
Another tradition that relates to sports has taken a devastating turn. Previously it was a custom that whenever there was a conflict between children playing a game, usually cricket, one of the groups used to dig ditches on the pitch so that the opponent team could not play on that pitch any more. But recently an incident occurred in SWA that one of the group of children planted two bombs in the pitch that detonated at night.
In order to curb the situation it is the basic duty of the Government to educate the parents to get rid of the fear of their children, as parents are the only ones living close to them. As literacy level of FATA is not much and most children have lost their parents during the 11 year war, it will be difficult to depend on parents to relieve the children of mental issues. The government needs to start different programs at community levels to get the children out of harmful psychological impacts of the war on terror. One of the suggestions can be to provide security to schools and educational institutions so that the children can go to schools without any fear. This will enable children to study and start their social relationships.
Simultaneously, the teachers of the schools be trained in such a way that in addition to providing formal curriculum, children should also be provided lectures on peace and discourage violence so that children get out of their negative mindset of violence as the only precaution of safety. Similarly special institutions be established where children suffering from severe psychological and mental issues be treated free of cost (as most families living in FATA cannot afford such treatments).
These treatments and steps will not only be beneficial for the children of FATA but will enable to reconstruct the social fabric of the region and in the long term the entire nation will benefit if the children will enter the workforce with constructive minds rather than with the aim of joining any of the armed groups.
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