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Two Photos

09/06/07 3:37PM By Jay Craven
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(HOST) Commentator Jay Craven hasn't been able to stop thinking about two photographs he saw this summer - of children caught up in the violence of Afghanistan and Iraq.

(CRAVEN) Certain photographs insert themselves indelibly into our collective consciousness - and two Associated Press photos I saw this summer stay with me.  One showed an Afghan boy weeping over the killing by coalition forces of his three uncles and the arrest of his father.  Villagers claimed that the men were innocent, but that wasn't the point.  The image was stunning for how it captured the boy's outpouring of unguarded emotion.

The second picture showed three Iraqi boys playing in a Baghdad alleyway.  Two of them held toy guns to the head of a third boy.  They were play-acting an Iraqi army interrogation of a suspected insurgent.  The mock-prisoner cried real tears.  The two boys in control showed off for the camera.

Both photos caused me to reflect on how, each day, the war produces hundreds of new casualties among children.  Some are killed or wounded.  Others are scarred by the sight of parents, siblings, and neighbors arrested, executed, kidnapped, and injured or killed by car bombs, air strikes, or cross-fire.  The World Health Organization recently surveyed 600 Iraqi children ages 3 to 10 and found that 47 percent had been exposed to a major traumatic event during the past two years.

Two million Iraqi children are among the refugees who have fled their homes.  Hundreds have been kidnapped for ransom.  Tens of thousands have been made orphans by the violence.  Others have simply been abandoned by parents who can no longer afford to care for them.

Washington Post writer, Sudarsan Raghavan, reported from Baghdad earlier this summer and discovered dozens of stories from kids like 13 year-old Marwa Hussein who watched as gunmen stormed into her home and executed her parents.  She now lives in an orphanage and, according to Raghavan, remains haunted.

"They were killed," Marwa said, her voice trailing away as she sat on her narrow bed, tears sliding down her face.

"Marwa copes by taking care of her sisters Aliyah, 9, and Sura, 7", said social worker, Maysoon Tashin.  "She helps them with their homework and bathes them. She's trying to substitute for the role of their mother.  But even as she tries to fill this gap, she is in deep need for emotional support as well."

Raghavan reported that while some kids are buried in sorrow, others learn sectarian hatred, quizzing and taunting each other daily on whether they are Sunni or Shiite.  Like the kids in the AP photo, many buy toy guns and imitate soldiers and insurgents.

There are few local social workers and psychiatrists to treat the war's mushrooming population of damaged children.  And Washington Post writer Raghavan interviewed doctors troubled by the prospect that the Iraq war will cause this generation to become quite violent - even worse than during Saddam Hussein's regime.

Many children trapped in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan need help urgently.  But sadly, only the end of the war will begin to alleviate their suffering.

Filmmaker Jay Craven teaches at Marlboro College and directs Kingdom County Productions.
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