Recent pictures of two Iraqi boys, barely ten or twelve years of age, pained the world beyond consolation. One of them, taken by AFP photographer Ahmad Al Rubaye, was seen sticking his torso out of a speeding car in Baghdad holding a lethal automatic assault rifle. He was on his way to "join Iraqi security forces in the fight against Isis militants who have taken over several northern Iraqi cities." And the other was seen sitting by the side of a window of a bus holding a pistol with his finger on the trigger.
Expressions of grim determination written large on their childish faces were particularly painful for the world to stomach. With their childhood lost at a tender age, for these two children, like hundreds more in Iraq, it is a dismal battle for survival — it is either fight back or suffer total extinction.
Deputy Managing Editor of The Independent, i, Independent on Sunday and the London Evening Standard, Will Gore says, as conflicts in Iraq grow ever more bloody, no part of the country's population seems unaffected. Images are emerging of children allegedly being encouraged by Isis forces to watch executions. Across the sectarian divide, pictures from Baghdad show children with guns apparently joining adult volunteers in the fight against extremists.
"Children are caught up in wars in hideous ways. They are killed and maimed; they become orphans and refugees; and they fight."
We don't know who these two boys are; we don't know if they have already been orphaned by the intractable and endless fratricidal war in Iraq; we also don't know if their parents have permitted them to pick up weapons and fight for their survival. But they offer us the perfect passage from microcosm to macrocosm.
Barely twelve, they represent at least a million children worldwide whose childhood has been stolen or lost in conflict. Revolution, terrorism, war and organised crimes have left them brutalised and trauma stricken; their dreams battered beyond all repairs waiting in anxious silence for the solace of death.
They are the children of conflict, mostly under fifteen, found everywhere across the world — in Arabia, Bosnia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Africa, Iraq, India and other places. These are the children who are living either maimed or orphaned in a state of constant collision of conflicts between reality and fantasy. They all are living dead tired like old men and women at a tender age; their lives turned into empty carcasses.
Shahida is probably a shade older that the two boys in Baghdad; she is fourteen. And at this age she is a living tale of horror that children of conflicts are forced to undergo. She was pulled out almost dead from a heap of dead men, women and children two years ago in Benghazi when the conflict between the regime and rebels was at its peak. Today she is alive with a crippled body. With both her legs lost she asks in a voice which probably is not a decibel louder than whisper what was her fault.
Can the world ever answer her why would she never be able to play and walk on her feet? She wakes up abruptly from her sleep often in fear remembering the fateful night when a group of marauding demagogues swooped down in the locality killing everything that moved and dumping human bodies in an open area.
I have has personal experience of seeing the shattering impacts of conflicts on the children in Indian administered Kashmir. I didn't dare to ask him the meaning of the word 'peace'. Since his birth he had never heard this word from any one around him. Four-year-old Sajad's vocabulary was, on the contrary, littered with words like militant, bullet, curfew, kabr (grave), AK-47, army and shaheed (martyr). He didn't understand these words either but uses them liberally all the same. He saw no difference between the militants and the army — they both wielded guns. His Kashmir was no longer a "paradise on earth."
Sajad was only one of Kashmir's nearly 50,000 orphans of terror — children of families, which have had lost their bread-earning members. He was one of those doomed children deprived of basic needs like food and education and an unfortunate member of a whole new generation growing up with deep psychological trauma. Years of violence have spawned a generation of fatherless children grappling with loss and memories of horror.
The same was for Suraiya. Born two months after her father, a self-styled commander with the Hizbul Mujahideen, was killed in an encounter. At five, Suraiya too knew words like azadi (freedom) and mujahid (freedom fighter or crusader) and like Sajad and most other Kashmiri orphans, home was the orphanage and the graveyard her playground.
In Lahore, far away from Baghdad, Asad is only fourteen and has developed incurable fear psychosis. Even if something falls the sound makes him terribly afraid. Asad is apparently not maimed but is orphaned by terrorism. A bomb blast left him alone with his mother with no earning, nothing to eat and with an uncertain future.
The stories of the children of conflict, whether they are in Congo, Rwanda, Bosnia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, India or Syria, are the same.
Our tomorrow is in jeopardy; in peril of unprecedented magnitude. There shall be a whole generation constantly tormented by vivid memories responsible for their fragmented personalities and impaired bodies.
Life will never be normal for them neither will the Sun ever break darkness of their souls. For them the world has changed and tomorrow they shall change the world for us.
The author is the Opinion Editor of Times of Oman. All the views and opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman.