Analysts: Toy guns could lead Pakistani children to terrorism

By Danish Yousafzai

Children in Peshawar play with toy guns July 3. [Danish Yousafzai]

Children in Peshawar play with toy guns July 3. [Danish Yousafzai]

PESHAWAR -- Authorities in Peshawar District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), concerned by violence and possible terrorist inclinations among children recently decided to ban the sale of toy guns and pellet guns in the district.

The ban will last for all of July, Peshawar Deputy Commissioner Riaz Mehsud told Pakistan Forward. Authorities will review the policy after it expires.

Punishment could be as severe as six months' imprisonment and a fine of Rs. 50,000 (US $500).

Toy guns are as old as guns themselves and are a big part of children's celebrations during Eid and other festivities.

However, "using toy guns affects children's minds negatively," Mehsud said. "It could make terrorism and intolerance attractive to them."

"Besides toy guns, there are many other toys for children," Mehsud added. "We shouldn't be teaching minors how to use weapons."

Strict enforcement

"Strict action will be taken against violators," Mehsud said.

During July, the district administration has sealed 55 shops and arrested more than 30 dealers of toy guns in various Peshawar markets, Mehsud said.

The KP Police July 3 in Karkhano Market confiscated a truck loaded with toy guns. They destroyed the entire shipment at the Hayatabad police station.

Ikram Ullah Khan, a Peshawar toy shop owner, told Pakistan Forward that he had sold toy guns for 10 years.

This year, though, he is not carrying such merchandise. Last year, during another temporary ban, local police fined him Rs. 5,000 (US $50) for selling toy guns.

A frightening injury

Wajahat Khan, a Peshawar resident, recalled how Eid ul Fitr almost turned tragic for his family in 2013.

On that day, his nephew shot Wajahat Khan's six-year-old son, Wajid, with a pellet gun.

"My son was bleeding," Wajahat recalled. "We rushed him to the hospital. Thank God that his eye was safe."

Since that day, he has opposed all toy guns because, even if they're called toys, they can injure children, he said.

Demands for permanent ban

Civil society and children's welfare organisations in Peshawar are seeking a permanent ban that would convey a permanent rejection of the message that might be embedded in toy guns.

Pashtuns should change the message in their community that guns represent valour and strength, Peshawar social activist Shafeeq Gigyani, a member of the NGO Alternative Narrative against Violence, told Pakistan Forward.

"We should own science and education rather than weapons," he said.

Gigyani is hoping for a complete ban nationwide.

"We should teach a peaceful syllabus to our schoolchildren," he argued.

Toy guns in regions afflicted by terrorism compound the impressions of war that children pick up, Sanaa Ejaz, a Peshawar social activist, told Pakistan Forward.

Because children are tomorrow's leaders, they should have toys that teach peace, she said.

"That would help us put an end to the war and to terror," she said.

Ejaz urged shopkeepers to replace toy guns with other toys that have a more positive influence.

Too similar to the real thing

Toy guns resemble real weapons much too closely, Waseem Khalil, a superintendent of police in Peshawar city, told Pakistan Forward.

Someone buying a toy gun is teaching his or her children how to use real ones, he said.

"Parents think they're just toys," he said. "They're wrong."

Non-stop war and terrorism since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (in 1979) have inured Pashtuns to weapons, he said.

"Everyone is familiar with weapons [in the Pashtun belt of Pakistan]," he said. "That's the main reason our children like guns."

Khalil's team is vigorously enforcing the district administration's orders to crack down on dealers and manufacturers of toy guns, he said.

Hoping to break attraction to firearms

Authorities and psychologists are hoping that children like Arif Khan, 11, of Peshawar will find new outlets for their energy.

Arif frankly says he loves guns. He recently purchased a toy gun from Karkhano Market.

It looks completely genuine and he can fire pellets at birds, he said.

Some children exposed to toy guns will not turn out well, warned Peshawar psychologist Javid Khan.

Terrorists can easily recruit young Pakistanis who learned the wrong lessons from playing with toy guns, he said, adding that trouble results when those who have a "craze for power" graduate to real firearms.

"Toy guns ... should be permanently banned," he concluded.

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