|Outreach No. 97 - Children in Especially Difficult Circumstances - Part 2: Children Affected by Catastrophes (New York University - TVE - UNEP - WWF, 70 p.)|
SUGGESTIONS FOR USE teachers, community leaders: As
background reading for awareness exercises on landmines.
Victims of land-mines
A six-year old boy in northern Somalia picked up an object on the road near his home. It looked like the plastic top of a thermos bottle. When it exploded, the boy was blinded in both eyes, and his face was scarred. His right hand was destroyed, and later amputated at the wrist. Both his knees were disabled with presumed shrapnel injuries. He is now unable to walk.1
Land-mines responsible for most civilian deaths are the anti-personnel variety. These often injure children at play who are unaware, careless or ignorant of the danger. Even though mines may not be designed to look like toys, to a child, any interesting object will arouse curiosity. Mines come in a bewildering array of shapes and colours. Some look like stones. Others resemble pineapples. Many Afghan tribesmen talk of the infamous 'butterfly' mine as the green parrot.
A 'butterfly' mine
Every day land-mines kill or horribly mutilate children, especially those living in rural communities. Where pastures, farmland, forests or paths are mined, children may risk their lives every time they venture out to play or to graze herds, farm, draw water or collect firewood. And sometimes children's lives are badly affected when their parents are victims. In January 1994 in Malanje, Angola, little Tunisia became yet another of the town's orphans. The six-month-old baby was found still clinging to her mother's corpse three days after she had been killed trying to harvest food.2
Everyone in high-risk areas should learn about the dangers of land-mines. Educating children is especially important. Too often people become used to the presence of mines, and grow careless. Sometimes, they adopt a fatalistic attitude towards such dangers. Children may find it difficult to accept that certain areas are no longer a playground.
People should be taught how to avoid injury, and what to do in case a family member or friend is injured. Knowing what first-aid steps to take can mean the difference between life and death for a land-mine victim as the nearest medical centre may be many hours away. The precise form and content of the education should be modified to take account of local language and culture. The more locally specific the education, the more effective the message.
Warnings are posted throughout Cambodia, where an estimated 4 million land-mines are deployed - one for every two Cambodians.
Various governments, United Nations agencies and NGOs have carried out mine awareness programmes. For example, a UNICEF-supported mine awareness project was drawn up for El Salvador in 1992 after the country had ended 12 years of internal conflict. Large numbers of mines were scattered around the countryside, most of them crude homemade devices, and little attempt had been made to map their locations. Many children were being killed and injured by these devices.
As part of the programme, teachers, health workers and community leaders were trained to point out the dangers of mines to children living in affected communities. Mobile units conducted the training. Once trained, these individuals returned to their communities with the necessary knowledge to pass on the messages they had learned. They were provided with posters illustrating the dangers of mines; flip charts explaining the basic concept of the mine awareness project and leaflets were distributed freely. The design and content of these leaflets was chosen carefully to appeal to children in particular. It is difficult to judge the success of the awareness project, but there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of children injured since the El Salvador effort was completed.
Mine surveys and mine demarcation
Mine awareness should be accompanied by mine surveys and mine demarcation. Surveys should show which areas of the country are mined and which can be safely inhabited. Mined areas should then be clearly demarcated with appropriate warning signs. Such signs should be understandable even by those who cannot read. They should be made of materials that do not encourage their removal for recycling for private use. For example, in certain areas where raw materials are expensive, it might be more appropriate - and safer - to use red paint or coloured stones rather than wooden signposts which might be taken for some other purpose.
Find and destroy
To prevent injury, mines should be removed and destroyed. Mines in areas essential to the survival of a community, such as forests, farms, plantations, water points, paths and pasture lands, must be cleared. Proper clearance means that mines must be first detected and them destroyed, and this requires time, expertise and, inevitably, enormous danger. At least 99 per cent, and preferably 99.9 per cent, of mines should be cleared. Even this does not mean people walking on the land are completely safe from the risk of death or serious injury.
Demining can be expensive, but it is worth the risk and effort. Once productive land has been demined and the safety of people assured, the community can get on with development in peace, without the need for outside assistance.
Prevention is better than cure
There are an estimated 100 million land-mines, one for every 20 children. Another 100 million mines are believed to lie in stockpiles ready for use. With existing technology and financial resources, demining is not able to keep pace with the rate at which mines are being laid around the world.
If demining is to be worthwhile in the long run, a country must stop laying mines itself and should do all it can to prevent others from doing so. This requires national coordination, vigilance and the will to destroy all stockpiles of anti-personnel land-mines. Internationally, governments should cooperate to implement fully the moratorium on the export of land-mines adopted unanimously by the U. N. General Assembly in 1993.3
What you can do (where appropriate)
* Help organise a mine awareness programme for your community. Work in consultation with the appropriate Ministries, local offices of UN agencies and NGOs. Include information on where land-mines are located, what they look like, and first-aid treatment that might be necessary should injuries occur.
* Help children injured and disabled by land-mines. Such help might range from volunteering at rehabilitation centres to providing help to individual disabled children. A useful resource is the Child-to-Child Activity sheet No.5.1 Children with Disabilities available from Child-to-Child, Institute of Education, University of London, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, United Kingdom.)
* Help organise a fund-raising campaign to have land-mines found and destroyed in a particular region. Such a campaign could be conducted on an international level.
* Help campaign for an international ban on the use, production, stockpiling and sale, transfer or export of antipersonnel mines. Write letters to national politicians or join forces with vigorous campaigners against anti-personnel landmines [e.g. Handicap International (France); Human Rights Watch (United States); Medico International (Germany); Mines Advisory Group (United Kingdom); Physicians for Human Rights (United States), and the Vietnam, Veterans of America Foundation (United States)].