Armanshahr’s Public dialogue No. 170

Public dialogue No. 169 of Armanshahr Foundation, “Mobilisation of cultural-social resources to protect abandoned children”, took place at Goharshad University on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 within the framework of the Human Rights Week. More than 120 students and human rights activists took part.

Initially, “Water”, a film directed by Mr Seyed Jalal Rohani, winner of the best short feature film at International Women’s Film Festival-Herat, was screened. Subsequently, the meeting’s moderator, Mr Atiq Arvand, author of the book “A section of common people; women and the tradition of incantation writing”, said: the government of Afghanistan has joined two conventions in relation to rights of the child. The first is the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the second concerns forced labour of children. However, we notice on a daily basis that early marriages, forced labour of children, street vending, begging and other issues are quite normal in the society; in particular in regard to people who are not capable of defending themselves, i.e. children. It is clear that the government of Afghanistan is not capable on its own to counter all those grievances plaguing children.

Then, Messrs Ghassem Efrani, a Goharshad University professor, and Sahel Paykar, deputy director of Union of Afghanistan Youth, and Ms. Zakia Mirzaei, director of Tak Publishing House spoke.

The title of Mr. Erfani’s speech was “how can various resources to protect children be mobilised in Afghanistan?” He began by quoting Hobbes: Man is man’s wolf. No other creator, except man, brings violence to other people. There are three reasons why children must be protected. First, children of today are national and international leaders and managers of tomorrow. If we have good children today, we shall have a good and peaceful world tomorrow. Second, protecting children is beneficial to national and global development, where today’s children are strong civilian managers of tomorrow. The third reason is a legal one. The humiliated and deprive children of today cannot be expected to be good parents and rulers tomorrow. World War II was a creation of the children of World War I. We must protect children in order to have permanent development and peace.

Children in Afghanistan are greatly deprived, including a very small number who have access to education. They do not receive the required education as a result of low quality and weakness of educational institutions. Also poverty and insecurity prevent children from having access to services. Even our media are war-afflicted and politicised. We do not attach any significance to or have any plans for the most extensive and at the same time the most deprived group in the society.

The resources we have today for protecting children include official resources, e.g. the domestic and international institutions. We have made some progress in this area, but it is not enough at all. Unofficial sources are the most important and most impactful resources helping children grow and be protected. These resources are also key to the success of other countries. Nevertheless, to attract these unofficial resources, awareness should be raised in order to mobilise them.

Mr Sahel Paykar’s speech was entitled “the role of education in raising a healthy generation of children.” He said: it is the responsibility of all to bring children up. However, the government must have specific policies for education of children and young people. Ministry of Education and Ministry of Hajj and Endowments must launch campaigns, in collaboration with mosques and imams, to rectify attitudes towards children. The government must pay special attention to children and rights of the child. The community leaders and imams of the mosques must help promote knowledge of the rights of the child among the families. Unfortunately, there are such grave conducts and behaviours toward children within the society and the families that one cannot even speak about them.

We must have more comprehensive and extensive plans to protect rights of the child. Unfortunately, the challenges facing our children are much more complicated and worse than imposing forced labour on children: sexual abuse, early marriages, and paedophilia by men, imams of the mosques, commanders and others.

Ms. Zakia Mirzaei was the last speaker and the title of her speech was “Private publishers and abandoned children: what is to be done?” She said: literature plays a very effective role in the growth and flourishment of children’s capabilities. In view of the difficult and violent conditions of war in the past, it is fundamentally essential to pay attention to children’s literature. I do not mean only the written and modern literature. Ancient cultures in the families, such as the tales that parents tell, are also very significant. Afghanistan has a rich literary history, but it is poor in the field of children’s literature. The first time that attention was paid to children’s literature was through the publication of Seraj ul-atfal as a supplement to Seraj ul-akbar.

Ms Mirzaei outlined the challenges facing private publishers in the field of children’s literature: even though we have a rich history in the field of literature, there are many problems. To create literature for children, we need creators of children’s literature. Unfortunately, we do not have such writers in Afghanistan. There is also the problem of importing works of culture for children. Books are imported from Iran and Pakistan and spread laziness among our cultural creators.

The second problem is the high cost of creating children’s literature. Children’s books need illustrations and special design.

The third and important problem is poverty. The high rate of poverty and the large number of children within families prevent them from providing for children’s basic cultural requirements. On the other hand, we live in an era, when Internet and computer games have replaced books.

Raising the level of knowledge and understanding of families about the significance of poetry, stories and other literature for children shall pave the way for children to have access to culture. On the other hand, private publishers can establish unions to distribute books and make available their products to the people.

During the question and answer session, participants criticised government policies in respect of support for literature and culture, asking: how can we have writers and creators of literature for children when governments do not attach any significance to issues of children and young people?

Another criticism was directed at educational themes and standard, whereby violence rather than tolerance is promoted among children. For instance, children learn to say “J” for “Jihad”.

In conclusion, hundreds of copies of Armanshahr’s books were distributed among the participants.