Last year was the deadliest one for Afghanistan's civilians, including children, since the American-led war began in 2001.
Children have increasingly become victims of the conflict — Afghanistan Rights Monitor recently showed that about 1,050 children died in 2009 in war-related incidents and there were at least 2,080 cases of grave violations of child rights, such as recruitment of kids as suicide bombers and foot soldiers and forced labor. Three decades of conflict has also had long-term repercussions on the country's youth, many of whom are disfranchised and lack educational and employment opportunities. Literacy and secondary school enrollment rates are also low. The situation for Afghan girls and women is particularly concerning; a December report shows that they suffer high levels of violence and discrimination and have poor access to justice and education. Afghan girls are also under traditional pressures to enter early marriage and early pregnancy.
The Youth Parliament blog, based in India, elaborates on the situation:
“Possibly one of the biggest roles in the process of restructuring Afghanistan can be played by the youth of Afghanistan. 68% of the Afghan population consists of people who are under the age of 25 years. However, the long period of war has deprived many of them of their youth and childhood. Categorized as the ‘lost generation’ of Afghanistan, the socially imposed silence and lack of education has suppressed large sections of the Afghan youth. Moreover, the youth is hardly seen as a direct mechanism for peace building, but only as possible recruits for various terrorist organizations.”
Despite the circumstances, efforts are being made nationwide by and for youth to maintain their health and education and to empower them. The Youth Parliament blog continues:
“The youth has been able to overcome some of these barriers in the recent past to play a more active role. This is evident from the existence of a number of youth organisations spread over the entire country which have undertaken the task of promoting non-formal education, increasing awareness, promoting volunteerism for peace and development of the country and most of them have got integrated in the government or working of other NGOs.”
Examples of youth involvement range from a teen training to be midwife to help combat the country's high maternal mortality rate to young women protesting against a law restricting their rights to a young woman nurturing Afghan girls through soccer. In Kabul, another sport is being used to get kids off the street and stay active — skateboarding. Skateistan teaches boys and girls how to skateboard, among other skills such as skateboard instruction, literacy and computer skills. Skateboarding offers a rare opportunity for Afghan girls to participate in a public sport, helping break down traditional barriers, as this video documents. The blog I Skate, Therefore I am provides background on the initiative:
“Skateistan started two years ago in a dried-up fountain in the heart of the Afghan capital, when two Australians with three skateboards started teaching a small group of fascinated kids. It is now Afghanistan’s (and the world’s) first co-educational skateboarding school. The school engages growing numbers of urban and internally-displaced youth in Afghanistan through skateboarding and provides them with new opportunities in cross-cultural interaction, education, and personal empowerment programs.”
The bright lines discusses the opening of Afghanistan's first indoor skateboarding park and its significance:
“On October 29, 2009, Skateistan will be opening the largest indoor sports facility & skate park in Kabul. It’s incredible how this team of instructors is engaging young folk in the art of skateboarding, in a place where the social opportunities for them, especially young girls, is limited because of the U.S. war in Afghanistan. The goal is to bring indoor & outdoor skateboarding facilities to Afghanistan. There’s going to be separate classes for young girls.”
Some young women are also finding an outlet for self-expression, healing and outreach via writing. The Afghan Women’s Writing Project is a blog started by novelist Masha Hamilton that connects Afghan women, between the ages of 18 and 28, with writing instructors in the United States. Its goal is to allow Afghan women to have a voice that isn't filtered through male relatives or the media. The young women's writing covers issues ranging from the joy of playing basketball to death threats from the Taliban to breaking the silence. In this post, an anonymous blogger talks about how she is being forced into a marriage and in desperate need of solutions:
“After my father died, the responsibility for me fell to my brothers, who grew up under the Taliban government and were influenced by it. Now I live with three Talibs and I must obey what they say. I am not like a girl in the house, but a slave. When I was at third year at the university, the owner of our house demanded higher rent. My family decided they would leave Kabul and go to a province where housing was cheaper. But I didn’t know how I would continue my studies in that case, so I gave up my transportation money to help pay for our rent, and I go to the university on foot.
Still, at the beginning of this year, my brothers said: “It is time for you to marry.” They arranged a marriage to my first cousin, my mom’s brother’s son, who lives in a province where most of the people are Talib. My cousin is about 40 years old and uneducated. His family has a business and a big house. Their women are required to wear burqas and are responsible for cooking, cleaning and caring for the animals. Most have eight or nine children. They can’t go outside the house—even when they are sick, they aren’t allowed to go to the doctor.”
Many of the young women also express their sentiments through poetry. In these segments of a poem, Shogofa shares her story:
“I am from long line of women who have walked alone …
From a land that smells of the blood of innocent people
From a people who have lost everything in war – sons, daughters, fathers, and mothers
From a people feeling hopeless
I am from long line of women who have walked alone…
I know now how to enter society
And find my answers though I’m alone
Learn from my experience though I have failed many times
I never give up
I find my way and learn nothing is impossible to achieve
I ignore those things that destroy my mind
I learn that no one can help me except me
I accept reality and I’m ready to face any problem
Now I have ambition to achieve my goal
To help my people bring peace to the next generation”
Others also remain hopeful about the future of Afghanistan and the role youth can play in bringing peace and security. Mozhdah Jamalzadah, blogging on Afghanistan Through My Eyes, says:
“One thing that impressed me very much about the younger generation in Afghanistan, at least from what I’ve seen so far, is that they are so eager to learn, and they strive for success. Even with the lack, and low standard of education these kids try to gain as much as they can. They are incredibly intelligent. In North America where education system is absolutely amazing, most kids will do only what they have to in order to get to the next level. Most are not passionate. I believe if you give the same opportunities to these Afghan youth who are so hungry for knowledge, who knows how far they can take it. The sky is the limit.”
Photo of Afghan children by isafmedia, U.S. Air Force TSgt Laura K. Smith, on Flickr, Creative Commons.
they should stop this violence!!!!!!!!