(Discovery Times Channel/ 2003/ 45 minutes)
Documentary screening and Panel Discussion
New York, October 2, 2003
Sharmeen Obaid, filmmaker
Asith Bhattacharjee, Acting Director in the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Saman Zia-Zarifi, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division
Moderator: Linden Chubin, Asia Society, Associate Director of Public Programs
Welcome by Ambassador Nicholas Platt, President of Asia Society:
The Asia Society is pleased to screen the documentary Terror's Children, produced by Discovery Times Channel. I am happy to announce that tonight's event is now the second in the series of a collaborative effort between the Asia Society and Discovery Times Channel. We are also very pleased to have with us leading advocates of child's rights to discuss the challenges in securing the well being of children caught in conflict zones, and possible solutions to address this urgent need.
Sam Zia-Zarifi, Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch's Asia Division and Sharmeen Obaid, who made Terror's Children, will join us for a discussion following the screening. Mr. Olara Otunnu, who was scheduled to deliver some introductory remarks could unfortunately not join us tonight. We have the pleasure of having Mr. Asith Bhattacharjee from Mr. Otunnu's office of Children and Armed Conflict at the UN to join the panel discussion. Biographical information about the speakers is in the program handout, which you should have received.
Tonight's event is part of Asia Society's Asian Social Issues Program, a public education initiative that looks at critical social challenges and emerging strategies to address them. For the last four years, we have played an important convening role to discuss issues on human rights, conflict, poverty, the environment, women and children, among others.
Without further ado, we will now screen Terror's Children.
Question: What kind of work is specifically being done to work with organized youth groups, there in Pakistan or on the border of Afghanistan to help them protect themselves during the time of conflict and/or when they are being recruited into armed forces, or abuses that they're facing?
Sharmeen Obaid: In the area we filmed in, we found there were absolutely no NGOs apart from UNHCR working with the refugees. And children had to go out and earn a living or starve to death. A lot of these children don't have their parents with them. They fled the bombing for example. Like the garbage picker; he hadn't come with his family. Most of them that get recruited to the Islamic organizations do so of their own free will. Who wouldn't want to go and study at an Islamic religious school as opposed to working 13 hours a day? I can safely say that in the city of Karachi, where I filmed, I am not too familiar with what is happening in the border areas, but I do realize that some of these madrasas do send the children across to Afghanistan to fight, once they are a little older and once they have been indoctrinated.
Saman Zia-Zarifi: There are, of course, Pakistani NGOs who deal with the issue of child labor in Pakistan, which is another endemic problem there. But Pakistan is overwhelmed and it simply doesn't have the resources to deal with the refugees. And there are a few NGOs that work with Afghan refugee children, but very little. This is clearly a population that is completely at risk and completely vulnerable. And I do want to echo what you have just heard. The only organizations that really do act to protect the children are those affiliated with the mosques and the religious organizations and for the most part they are the only ones who provide services right now, other than UNHCR. Unfortunately some of these groups don't necessarily have the same idea of what's in the best interest of the children as others but for the most part those are the only groups that are providing services.
Asith Bhattacharjee: Can I add something to this because at around the time this film was made, at the end of it, when you see the refugee camps, when the refugees are returning, that's about the time the Undersecretary General and I went to Afghanistan, and we toured most of the internally-displaced camps because the refugees were put in certain camps before they were sent back home. But yes, the problem we showed in the film we found was transferred back into Afghanistan. At that point in time in Kabul city alone we estimated something around 50,000 children were in the streets, doing the same kind of work shown in the film. But we also saw at that point in time, certain non-governmental organizations set in Afghan groups starting the seeds of some programs which they were implementing giving them education at night or some food and trying to help educate these children. And to get them back into society and to stop them from living in the streets. In fact, the Undersecretary General at the end of the visit proposed a program which was called "Food for Education Program," and advocated that the four loaves of bread these children get for picking up rags and other materials from the street be given by humanitarian agencies so these children could take these four loaves of bread and give it to their family, and in return the child goes to school. However, I must admit, that this has not yet taken off although we are in touch with UN agencies in Afghanistan to make it work and to make it happen.