IWPR, December 6, 2012

Afghanistan: Children Traumatised by War in Kunar Province

World Health Organisation studies show a high incidence of mental illness among Afghans, including children

By Zabihullah Ghazi

Ten-year-old Noria is unable to go to school any more because she is so scared of the effects of war.

“We are scared – there’s war here and rockets being fired. I used to go to school but now I can’t,” she said. “When night comes, my little sister and I have nightmares. One day a rocket landed close to our school, and we were saved only by God’s mercy.”

The U.S. military has detained more than 200 Afghan teenagers who were captured in the war for about a year at a time at a military prison next to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, the United States has told the United Nations.
"We're not talking about battlefield captures, we're talking about people who are living at home, and four or five brothers might be taken together. It might take them a year or more to figure out that one of them was younger than 18, to determine the identities of these kids," she said.

Her father Abdul Wahed, a farmer in Kunar’s Wata Pur district, says that living near the district government offices and a base used by international forces means the family has seen a lot of military action.

“There’s the district chief’s building and a US military base near our home. One day there was fighting around here and planes bombed the area,” he said. “There was pandemonium in our house – Noria fainted and fell to the floor, and my other little daughter was scared as well.”

Abdul Wahed said both Noria and the younger girl Selgai had suffered from problems for a year now, and doctors had been unable to help. He would seek medical help across the border in Pakistan, but he could not afford to go, he said.

Dr Faruq Sahak, head of Kunar’s provincial hospital, said he saw many patients with psychological problems, but he had virtually no facilities for treating children, and sent cases either to private clinics in Jalalabad, the main city of neighbouring Nangarhar province, or else to Pakistan.

Health officials say people living close to military bases are especially prone to signs of mental trauma.

Provincial governor Sayed Fazlullah Wahidi says he has previously asked the international forces to choose bases at some distance from civilian areas.

“Planes take off and land, and sometimes missiles are fired from these bases, making a very loud noise which troubles people a lot,” he said.

World Health Organisation studies show a high incidence of mental illness among Afghans, including children.

Zabihullah Ghazi is an IWPR-trained radio reporter in Nangarhar.

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