Deradicalizing child warriors in Pakistan

Feriha Peracha runs perhaps the world’s most unusual boarding school: it’s for 162 child warriors who fought for the Taliban in Pakistan.

More than 58 percent of the children, who range in age from 12 to 17, were abducted.  But 41 percent volunteered to join the Taliban, some to get food. The rest were given over by their families.
All attend Sabaoon, which means the first ray of light at dawn. Her school is in an undisclosed location in the Pakistani province called Swat, about 150 miles west of Islamabad. Peracha presented some of her experience with these boys at a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship seminar called Beyond 9/11.
The school began in late 2007. Peracha, a psychologist whose program is funded primarily by UNICEF and protected by the Pakistani military, attempts to deradicalize them, and reintegrate them into Pakistani society.
It’s dangerous work – she carries it out despite last year’s assassination of a colleague, Mohammad Farooq Khan.
So far 32 of the 162 boys have graduated from Sabaoon and gone on to college or back to society. She says 95 percent of them will have been reintegrated into society by May 2012. A few of them will not be reintegrated into society. Her research shows that in Swat, what drives these children into extremism is not religious faith but poverty. She says for these children, Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs  was not met, even the most basic physiological ones, food, water, warmth and rest.
Despite these life situations, about a third of the boys had complete high school. Another third had dropped out, while 35 percent took Koran lessons either at home or in mosques, where they would get a meal a day.
Listening to her talk about Pakistan’s poor reminds me of The Clash’s ‘public service announcement with guitars,’ Know Your Rights. The three are:

  1. the right not to be killed,
  2. the right to food money and
  3. the right to free speech.

Though in The Clash song and apparently in Pakistan there are exceptions to these rights.

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