About a year or two ago, I read a book by Eric Lomax entitled The Railway Man. In the autobiographical novel, Lomax is sent to Singapore as a signals officer at the beginning of World War II. Lomax is taken prisoner with his squad when Singapore is captured by the Japanese.
In a Japanese prison camp, Lomax and a few others develop a plan to try to escape by making a radio and maps of a railway along the Singapore coastline, which Lomax had drawn because of his fascination with railways and locomotives and sketching before the war. Because of this, the Japanese believe Lomax and his colleagues to be spies and attempting to sabotage the Japanese war effort. And, in regular beatings, they try to induce Lomax to confess to that which they were not. The torture went on and Lomax is sent to other camps around Asia where he is consistently mistreated, abused, hurt and denied food and water.
The following 50 years for Lomax were hard as he suffered with Post Traumatic Stress, which affected his relationships with his family, occupation and faith.
This is an analogy I chose because it so perfectly exemplifies the tragedy of the aftermath of events that occur in war. Though Lomax longed for revenge, and searched rigorously for one of his tormentors who he had heard to have still been alive, he met up with this man — a Japanese-English interpreter, whom he held accountable for his mistreatment — but instead of revenge, Lomax had the chance to forgive him. But so often in war, psychological wounds do not heal and those affected will not have a chance to forgive.
It is so much worse when a child is forced to deal with these feelings and problems. In peacetime, the protection and care that is needed to help a child develop a normal, healthy life — offered by their government, society, family and law — is present in many countries in the world. When a country is at war with itself or others, that protection is taken away from them. Along with food and shelter, a basic sense of safety is necessary for a person to live a healthy life.
As the world now faces the threat of terrorism and war, it is extremely important to understand how and why people, especially children cope and survive in the aftermath of violence and war and how their human rights are violated by war.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted on November 20, 1989, mandates 51 basic human rights that children need including:
- The right to survival and to the resources necessary for survival such as food, water and shelter.
- To develop to the fullest of their potential, such as having access to education.
- To protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation of any kind.
- To participate fully in the family, cultural and social life of their communities.
In roughly 50 countries across the globe, children are affected by armed conflict — as bystanders and as deliberate targets. They are being stripped of these rights granted to them by the U.N.
Families are forced to endure many horrible things in war, including killing their own family members, watching as community buildings, such as schools, churches, mosques and hospitals are bombed, which in peacetime are so desperately needed and often, children are even being abducted and recruited into military action. Though there are many organizations to help children and families cope and heal from tragedies like these, it just isn’t enough. The organization, Free the Children suggests that, “The best way to protect children from wars is to prevent them from happening in the first place.”
I found one story to be stunning and horrible but also an excellent example of the children of war and what they experience. It was done by a BBC News correspondent and went like this:
Ali, father and husband, at one time before his assassination, worked for Uday Hussein, son of Saddam. When Uday was assassinated, Iraqi police became suspicious of Ali — no reason was given. Because of this, Ali fled to the Northern Kurdish nation where he was safe, protected by Western and Kurd officials and police. There was only one problem. When he left, he also left his family at home, in Iraq. His wife was tortured by these “police” and his daughter may have been permanently crippled from the abuse. They wanted to know where Ali was. His daughter, Anna, was two years old when this happened. She is now four and walks with a “hobble.”
He went on to describe other disgusting treatments and abuses of children and people in Iraq, and although the crimes committed against his daughter were not severe, as in many other cases it demonstrates the horrible effect on children and families in war. He went on later, to speak of murdered babies — some not more than four days old.
“I have been to Baghdad a number of times. Being in Iraq is like creeping around inside someone else’s migraine. The fear is so omnipresent you could almost eat it. No one talks.” Ali announced when speaking with BBC’s Correspondent, John Sweeney.
There are organizations to help these children and their families overcome the aftermath of the dread, extreme misfortune and constant terror that all encompass war, but that is not enough. Education is important. War is not the answer and it definitely is no place for a child.