Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Monday, September 21st, 2020

The Psychological Effects of War on Children


The Psychological Effects of War on Children

Just imagine how deep and long-lasting the psychological effects on Afghan children would be when terrorism has become a daily part of our lives. The accumulated damage to children must be high given the daily exposure to stress triggered by atrocities occurring on our streets and being covered in a sensational manner by the ratings-driven media.

Children have also become cannon fodder for the militants. That children are in increasing numbers being recruited, indoctrinated and used as child suicide bombers no longer shocks us. The number of children being used as suicide bombers is growing. The use of children to inflict terror on other children is sadistic and nauseating, yet we have no strategy to rescue them.

The issue of Spozhmoi, a 13-year-old girl who intended to explode herself, is the worst example. Allegedly, her brother, who was a member of Taliban insurgents, forced her sister to carryout suicide attack that was, luckily, captured by Afghan police before performing her deadly mission. Alike Spozhmoi, there are many more male children who are trained in madrasahs and sent to carry out suicide bombings in Afghanistan. This is a great tragedy.

It was reported several times that Taliban insurgents are bribing starving children to plant roadside bombs, act as decoys and to be suicide bombers against Afghan and foreign forces in the country. They recruit the young boys from the ranks of homeless and orphaned children.

In return, they teach them how to shoot a gun, how to operate a suicide vest and how to manage improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Children learn quickly, especially when they are starving and fed by them.

It was also reported in October, 2013, that the Taliban had kidnapped more than 100 children from Pakistan and Afghanistan to use in suicide missions and to be trained to be jihadists. They try to use them against foreign forces in Afghanistan. While they wait for their turn to blow themselves up, the children are trained to be jihadists.

Impacts in childhood may adversely affect the life trajectory of children far more than adults. Consider children who lose the opportunity for education during war, children who are forced to move into refugee or displaced person camps, where they wait for years in miserable circumstances for normal life to resume, if it ever does. Consider a child disabled in war; they may, in addition to loss of a limb, sight, or cognitive capacity, lose the opportunity of schooling and of a social life. Long after the war has ended, these lives will never attain the potential they had before the impact of war.

Traumatic and disrupting events can have adverse effects even on children who are too young to verbalize their distress. Although infants and toddlers may have no cognitive comprehension of a disaster, the destruction of routine and loss of loved ones can lead to regression and detachment. According to psychologists, in the first year of life, such experiences can manifest as increased crying and irritability, separation anxiety, and an exaggerated startle response. Toddlers and preschool-aged children are likely to experience sleep terrors and nightmares and exhibit behavioral and skill regression manifesting as helplessness, clinging behavior, and increased temper tantrums.

Psychologically, children are exposed to situations of terror and horror during war – experiences that may leave enduring impacts in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Severe losses and disruptions in their lives lead to high rates of depression and anxiety in war-affected children. These impacts may be prolonged by exposures to further privations and violence in refugee situations.

Furthermore, exposure of children who were directly affected by an attack, can lead to a serious deterioration in their emotional state. These children are more likely to suffer post-traumatic symptoms, mainly of the intrusive kind such as nightmares or recurrent flashbacks.

Morally, the experience of indifference from the surrounding world, or, worse still, malevolence may cause children to suffer loss of meaning in their construction of themselves in their world. They may have to change their moral structure and lie, steal, and sell sex to survive. They may have their moral structure forcibly dismantled and replaced in training to kill as part of a military force.

It is beyond doubt that the children will be the legacy of hatred and the images of the enemy that persist long after the bombing stops. How can we stop the cycles of violence? How can children, who have lived through war, stop seeing violence as a solution to their problems?

I remember two photos that were published on the front page of The Australian, in July, 2006, which illustrated the problem well. One picture showed soldiers photographing an Israeli girl writing a message on a shell that was ready to be fired towards Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. The second photo showed a young injured Lebanese boy holding onto a toy rifle reported to be a get-well gift. Children are easily indoctrinated to see the other as the enemy and to see violence as a legitimate solution.  

Whenever I remember a scene from an Afghani film, which showed a gruesome violence of Taliban, I get frozen with fear. In the film, an old woman got mad when Taliban attacked her home, slaughtered her husband and her young boy and hanged their bodies upside down on a tree. The woman was singing a love song going to her neighbor’s home and asked her neighbor for bread. When their neighbors came out of the cellar and asked her if the Taliban had left, she answered that her husband was dancing. She led her neighbors to her home, and they screamed loudly by seeing the picture. Even though, I watched this TV about two years ago, not in my childhood, it has turned to a nightmare for me.

Hujjatullah Zia is an emerging writer of Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at zia_hujjat@yahoo.com .

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