Pakistani girls studying in class
Malala Yousufzai is not alone. Millions of children across Pakistan exist in a society where regular bouts of violence plunge them into a cycle of frustration, injustice and deprivation on a daily basis.
The bullet that was meant to silence 15-year old Malala has instead pierced the collective heart of an entire generation of innocent youth caught in the cross hairs of multiple conflicts in the country. These children are increasingly voicing their fears and hopes – and pushing, slowly, quietly, for something to be done.
A militant insurgency rages along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. A civil war has thrown Baluchistan into abject chaos. A perpetual state of war continues to paralyse Karachi, a war waged by gangs and militant groups supported by legitimate political parties.
In a state that appears to have abdicated all responsibility for upholding law and order, for ensuring economic growth and prosperity, for allowing its citizens a safe space to express their views, no child is safe from the brutality that ravaged Malala. And all because a girl-child felt she had a right to an education.
Across the length and breadth of the country, it is children who pay for their country’s lack of leadership. They are sacrificed in child marriages, brutally murdered in honour killings, subjected to strikes and violence that shut down their schools. They are constantly denied access to opportunity of any kind.
As a charity movement, at Creatives Against Poverty (CAP), we are perpetually stunned by the scale of the problem, as we work to mitigate trauma among children and youth exposed to extremism and violence, and document what drives the violence.
Boys reading a textbook in a classroom in Pakistan
In Pakistan’s Sindh province, we arrived in remote Hamid Bhutto Got, to find that an honour killing had driven half the village into hiding with the killer. All because a woman had dared to choose her own husband. The incident had left classrooms empty – despite that fact that Board Exams were ongoing. Teachers were knocking on students doors, trying to convince the girls it was safe to come to school to sit their exams.
In Kashmir, we interviewed students to find they were more occupied with the workings of AK-47 machine guns than the details of their history lessons. Half the children we spoke to dreamt of becoming commandoes so they could defend their communities against the violence that is part of the fabric of their lives.
In north-west Pakistan, we met children who know how many bombs a Predator drone can carry and how much damage those bombs can do. The children and youth we spoke to condemned local violent extremists and foreign military interventions with equal passion.
In Karachi, a courageous group of students led us through Orangi Town, Asia’s largest, most crime-infested slum, explaining to us how random revenge killings in their neighbourhoods can erupt into waves of violence that quickly spread across the city, leaving dozens dead in the space of a day.
Aren’t they afraid they will end up like Malala, because they dared to reflect upon the truth?
When we asked them, they said, yes, they were frightened, but they wanted to continue to speak out, in the hope that if enough people out there agree that the situation is unacceptable, the world will help them restore peace to their country. And they will then be able to go to school, to get that education that so many of them, so badly, want.
Karachi, Pakistan; Nov 2012: Through a series of workshops with Creatives Against Poverty (CAP), the students of Developments in Literacy (DIL) in Orangi, Pakistan open up about the problems that plague their city and its people, and the solutions they want to bring to Pakistan.
Fatima Najm is co-founder of Creatives Against Poverty (CAP), a charity movement that works in disaster and post conflict zones. Apart from delivering capacity building and conflict resolution workshops in the field, CAP also works on films to raise social awareness in South Asia and Africa; www.facebook.com/creativesagainstpoverty.