Eritrea

"Please tell people to stop fighting. Mines are not mine"

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Children in Eritrea learn about the dangers of landmines during a mine-risk education session led by their teacher. © UNICEF/NYHQ2014-3551/Pirozzi

BY GBEMI AKINBOYO

Hasen was injured by a roadside landmine on his way to school, about 8 km from his village in Eritrea. He lost his two legs at the age of 6 and is now 14 years. Since the incident, he has endured much pain and visited several health facilities for treatment.

For almost two years, Hasen was a hidden child who stopped going to school due to the long distance from home. His pain was excruciating, but his love for school was not shaken. Repeatedly, he asked his parents to provide him with a mobility device so he could continue his studies. But Hasen’s family lived in a remote rural area and could not afford such prosthetic assistance. Without being able to give his son this assistance, his father started taking him to school on rented donkeys and Hasen was able to complete his elementary school.

Hasen’s story is like that of many children in Eritrea and around the world, innocent victims of the lingering effects of war. UNICEF is working to ensure that children like Hasen receive the assistance they need to fulfill their ambitions and potential.

And these efforts are paying off. UNICEF has assisted the government in producing local prosthetics for children like Hasen; and families affected by mines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been given donkeys to take children living with disabilities to school.

But it does not end there. In 2014, UNICEF supported the government in reaching over 300,000 children in 288 war-impacted communities on mine risk education (MRE) safety messages. While direct causality is difficult to establish, such education no doubt contributed to a 7% reduction of injury cases in general (58,232) when compared to 2013*.

Currently, 89 countries and territories are contaminated by mines/ERW. The collective effort of the UN in many of these places has led to hundreds of thousands of people receiving information on how to identify dangerous weapons that litter their lands and how to stay safe. UNICEF also advocates to end the use of these weapons, noting their indiscriminate nature and the long-term socio-economic impact for victims.

Working with governments and partners, UNICEF will continue to ensure that child-friendly victim assistance, like that provided to Hasen, is made available to all affected children living with disabilities. (The UNICEF Guidance on Child-focused Victim Assistance is a useful reference).

Today, as we mark the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, I reflect on my experiences, the results we’ve achieved through our efforts, and how much work still remains. As I do, and as I think about Hasen’s story, two questions rumble through my mind:

How is the continued killing and maiming of children through the use of explosives devices changing the world’s political and economic landscape?

How can we harness social media for getting children themselves involved in mobilizing the world community against the use of mines and any victim-activated weapons, as well as for raising awareness about the threats mines/ERW pose?

If we can better show the world the stories of children like Hasen, and can make better use of various platforms available to us, we can provide even greater support to child victims like Hasen and prevent more children from enduring the pain he and his family have. Such actions would truly help realize the positive side of this story. Hasen’s own words still ring in my ears:

“Our family-owned donkey is my school bicycle and the artificial limbs are also my legs for getting to school very fast. I am not late [and do not fall asleep] during classes. I feel very strong. I am so happy that I can now continue my education without pains. Thank you to UNICEF and our government, but please tell people to stop fighting. Mines are not mine.”

We still have much to do, but stories like Hasen’s and the possibility of a world free of mines give me much hope for a brighter future for the realization and protection of children’s rights.

Gbemi Akinboyo is a passionate Child Protection Specialist currently with UNICEF New York. She also served as the Chief Child Protection in Eritrea from 2009 until early 2014.

*Health Management Information System, HMIS Report, 2014