No more toy guns for children in Afghanistan

Photo posted by an Afghan journalist on Twitter, showing a young child holding a real handgun.
Photo posted by an Afghan journalist on Twitter, showing a young child holding a real handgun.


Children tend to imitate adults. And in Afghanistan, a country ravaged by violence, it seems they particularly like to play with toy guns. This led the Afghan government to ban their sale in early June.

The Interior Ministry has asked the Afghan police to seize all plastic weapons they find being sold. At the same time, the Ministry has asked that parents stop buying the toys for their children.

The move has pleased children's rights activists, who believe that a "culture of violence" is so deeply engrained in Afghan society that it must be fought beginning in childhood. It remains to be seen if the ban will have any measurable effect, and if it will be accompanied by any further preventive measures, says our Observer Zakia Ahmad, a children's rights activist.

"The more they look like a real gun, the better they sell"

"At Aïd el Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, parents buy gifts for their children. And in Afghanistan, toy guns are among the most popular toys. The more they look like a real gun, the better they sell.

Children in Afghanistan really play a lot with imitation weapons, and this can be dangerous. Last year at Aïd el Fitr, dozens of children played with BB guns in Kabul, which resulted in more than 100 injuries, including some serious eyes injuries.

After several decades of war and tensions, violence has become normalised here – it's part of daily life. People live with it so constantly that they don't realise they ought to be doing all they can to prevent their children from coming into contact with this culture. When we see that the Islamic State organisation or the Taliban are succeeding in recruiting young children, we can suppose that society is partially responsible.

Our observer Saber Hosseini, who distributes books to children, asks kids to trade in their toy guns for books.

But the government can't be alone in addressing this question. Neither in the schools nor in the mosques is anyone taking an educational approach to the level of violence in Afghanistan. And yet these are the two principal places of learning for children. We need to develop a policy to improve.

In short, this ban seems to me like a good thing, but it's far from enough. There are weapons in most homes in Afghanistan. Imagine how many Afghan children see their parents holding real guns, and touch a real machine gun even before they get a plastic one. We've taken a first step, but there will have to be many more if we want to have some impact on the perception children have of weapons and violence."

According to Human Rights Watch, the Taliban have recently increased their recruitment of child soldiers in Afghanistan. They train children starting at the age of six. The number of children killed in combat is said to have risen by 18 percent in 2015; accordingly, one in four fighting-linked deaths in the country is said to be a child soldier. The Islamic State group in Afghanistan has also published various videos featuring children undergoing military training and learning to use weapons, in various locations around the country.