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When ‘toys’ become fatal

‘Toy’ bombs, hand grenades and mortal shells have killed and injured many children in residential areas

When ‘toys’ become fatal

This year, till September end, 32 children have been either killed or injured in Pakistan because of an innocent mistake — playing with something which they, in their innocence, took as a toy. Their playful laughter was turned into screams by ear-shattering explosions caused by hand grenades, otherwise also referred to a ‘toy’ bombs.

The silence surrounding these untimely deaths is louder than the explosions. Journalists and researchers who had previously reported on those who lost their lives in drone attacks remained silent, and never published any reports or documentaries reflecting the misery of the children who were coping with life after the physical incapacitation due to the ‘toy’ bomb.

‘Toy’ bombs are not the only explosive devices that draw the attention of children, hand grenades and mortal shell are equally attractive to them. These dangerous devices are found lying in residential areas, deliberately left where children can find them.

A timeline of this year’s deaths due to explosive devices exposes that there these grenades are purposely targeting children.

On February 13, 2017, the children of a shepherd family were playing in a village in the mountains when they found a hand grenade. The blast that followed left two brothers dead and a seven-year-old girl critically injured. In another incident, an eight-year-old girl, Naila Moeen, was playing outside her house when she mistook a grenade for a toy. The moment she lifted the grenade it exploded, killing her on the spot.

In the last five years, the year 2014 was the worst in terms of ‘toy’ bomb explosions with eleven incidents reported from different parts of the country.

The highest number of child casualties occurred in a Speenmark village of the South Waziristan on June 25, 2017 when a ‘toy’ bomb exploded. Six children ranging from 6 to 12 years of age were killed, and two were wounded. On July 27, 2017, schoolchildren, ranging from 6 to 12 years of age were playing near an under-construction building by their school at Rangela village of Shamozo area of Swat when an explosive device blew up and left five children injured.

On July 31, 2017, two children, Afnan and Ahmad, found a hand-grenade outside their home. They took it home and were playing with it when it exploded and injured them. On August 8, 2017, four children found a grenade outside their house in the Kalli Landi area of Kuchlak. It went off when they hit it with a hard object.

In another report from the Pishtakhara area on the outskirts of Peshawar, one child was killed while six others were injured on August 20, when an explosive device they were playing with went off in. On August 31, 2017, two minors were severely injured when they found a ‘toy’ bomb on the hill and tried to hit it with a stone.

Between 2013 and 2017, 122 children have been victims of such explosive devices. Of them, 34 couldn’t survive and the remaining suffered different level of injuries. There is no information on record to determine the number of children who were made disabled by these grenades.

The incidents are not confined to regions that have been the centre of war against terrorism; in fact, children across the country from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) to Karachi has suffered these attacks. The children in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were the most unfortunate as nearly 60 per cent of the casualties were reported from there. The least affected province is Punjab with 7 per cent of the ‘toy’ bomb casualties. The province of Sindh had 13 per cent of the casualties while FATA and Balochistan each had 10 per cent of the casualties. The districts with higher number of casualties were Karachi, Swat, Peshawar, Bannu, and Tank while the total number of districts in the country with such incidences was 21. Of the 88 wounded children, nobody knows what level of medical and monetary support they received to recover from the trauma.

As the incidents continue, concern goes beyond the care and future support for the victims to the source that places these lethal ‘toys’ in children’s reach, and basic questions arise: How do these toy-like bombs get into the country? Are they like suicide jackets that the terrorists manufacture within the country?

In the 1980s, ‘toy’ bombs were airdropped in neighbouring Afghanistan by Soviet forces as weapons against those who opposed their invasion. One can’t believe that terrorists collected those air-dropped ‘toy’ bombs and created their own stockpiles that still remain to be their main supply source for unleashing their savagery against our children. But the children are not simply dying from ‘toy’ bomb explosions; there are other explosives as well: at least 31 children’s casualties were the result of hand grenades, and 88 casualties were the cause of ‘toy’ bombs while the remaining 5 were the victims of mortal shells.

These ill-fated children are a small fraction of the total number of children killed in the wave of terrorism that swept the country thanks to the policies of their older generation. After every counter-terror operation, the monster of terrorism reappears with new tactics. The terror attacks and these ‘toy’ bomb explosions appear to have a direct links with the counter-terror operations.

In the last five years, the year 2014 was the worst in terms of ‘toy’ bomb explosions with eleven incidents reported from different parts of the country.  This year has already recorded four ‘toy’ bomb and five hand grenade explosions from three regions – Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, Balochistan, and FATA, leaving 10 children dead and 21 injured.

It’s either a coincidence or a well-planned retaliation by the militants that during every major military operation against them the frequency of such explosions rises.  In 2014, it was the Zarb-e-Azb operation and this year it is the ongoing Radd-ul-Fasad operation.  The data maintained by the Center for Research and Security Studies shows the casualties of toy bomb explosions during last five years were 27 children in 2013, 34 in 2014, 22 in 2015, 8 in 2016, and 32 in 2017.

Although these children were victims of the explosions that appear to have targeted them intentionally, no militant outfit ever claimed responsibility for these explosions like they did for the attack on the APS children. If they are not responsible for it, then who is? Is it the repercussion of the militancy and counter-militancy operation that make such devices? Whatever be the reason, the ill-fated children and their families deserve answers.

Mohammad Nafees

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