Around the world millions of children are the unheard voices of war. And the horrors they witness today will inform the adults they become tomorrow. Will they grow up to be the next leaders, teachers, freedom fighters or terrorists?
Children of Conflict is a four part series which will explore the lives of children whose lives are blighted by growing up in conflict zones.
PART ONE: Gaza
One of the Worlds biggest news stories, for one of the smallest and most claustrophobic strips of land on earth. Gaza is a virtual prison with no way in and hardly any way out. In an exclusive story, we talk to the grandchildren of Fatima Al Najar – the oldest female Palestinian suicide bomber. Bewildered and grieving for their grandmother, the children say all they want to do is to follow suit and become ‘martyrs’ themselves.
"I want to do the same. And I will recruit the other children of this town for martyrdom", says 14 year old Fatima. When she grows up she wants to study chemistry and engineering at university. "That’s if I don’t become a martyr first".
Her views are contrasted with another girl, 13 year old Rana – who dreams of being a journalist "so I can tell people how we suffer here. I am a child, I know what death means, I know what war means, I know what blood means. Me and all the children here know what it means."
Or Tehal, just ten years old – and who wants to be the first female Palestinian president. Her three wishes? To clean up the mess left behind by Israeli bulldozers, to give children their rights "because they have no rights here" and finally, "to build a new Gaza".
PART TWO: Lebanon
The town of Qana has become synomous with Lebanon's tragedy. Believed to be the site where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine, the town has earned a place in the history of infamy for two massacres of children ten years apart. The first, in 1996, when Israel bombed a UN base sheltering 800 people – most of them children. Over 100 children were killed or maimed.
The second massacre was during last year's war with Lebanon. A rocket hit a house where several families had taken shelter in the basement. It collapsed – burying the children in rubble. 17 were killed. The images of children being carried from the rubble, looking as though they were sleeping, horrified the World.
The film goes back to find the survivors of the first massacre - now teenagers – to find that although most of them have rebuilt their lives, this summers slaughter devastated them emotionally. And there are extraordinary parallels between the two stories.
In 1996, 3 year old Hussein Belhas was believed dead, and was put in a morgue freezer. Remarkably he was discovered to still be alive, and was rescued. Now 13, a composed Hussein says: "I am the boy who died, and then came back to life. This was my destiny." Still suffering horribly from his injuries, (his leg was blown off at the kneecap and has grown back as a twisted stick) Hussein will require medical treatment for the rest of his life, "when I try to play football, it hurts me. I stay awake all night with the pain".
His truly incredible story sits alongside that of Hasan Shalhoub, just 4 years old. In the massacre of 2006, Hasan lost his sister Zeinab who was 7. Also believed dead, Hasan was left over-night in a makeshift morgue. "In the morning I woke up. I started talking to a little girl next to me, but she turned out to be dead. Then I asked for my mother." Too young to fully realise the extent of his dramatic escape Hasan says "I was only injured a little bit in my head. I am fine now."
PART THREE: Afghanistan
A land of seemingly never ending wars, Afghanistan has endured almost 30 years of conflict – including a Russian invasion, a brutal civil war and the Taliban. And today's children don't know why the wars took place, they only know they have been born into suffering and misery.
One of the poorest countries in the world, the years of conflict have devastated this beautiful and wild place. Keeping hunger at bay, and keeping warm in winter are daily battles for the majority iof Afghans. Seven year old Majide has had to drop out of school to support his family. His father – one of the tens of thousands of Afghan landmine amputees – says simply: "What’s the point of him going to school if the rest of us starve?"
Or 12 year old Majid, growing up in an orphanage. His father was killed by the Taliban as he tried to buy food for his children. His mother was shot when she went to recover the body. He says: "Of course the war changed my life. If there was no war, I would still have my mum and dad". In a seeming premonition of death, his father told Majid that if he was killed he should study hard and be a good person. Those words sustain him through the desperately lonely life in the orphanage. "My father is like a light inside me. I want to make him proud of me."
In a few years, Majid will be thrown out the orphanage and left to fend for himself. But for now he gets a hot meal a day and free education. That actually makes him one of the lucky ones.
PART FOUR: Democratic Republic of Congo
The film goes inside the minds of the Congolese child soldiers. What makes an 11 year old child capable of awful brutality? "I saw my father die, then they killed my aunt. I didn't want to die by machete at home. That's a pointless death. So I decided to join the milita" says 13 year old Eric.
Responsible for the killings of thousands of innocent lives, the feared child militas of The DRC tell how their childhood was lost. Victims of a war no one understands, brutalized by their commanders who turned them into armed brigands, the children became murderers and rapists in a "kill or be killed" conflict.
For some there is hope. 14 year old Jolie describes how she preferred a machete to a gun in battle. "A gun can run out of bullets. A machete is safer if you want to stay alive". She calmly recalls how she first killed a man. "I hacked off his head and hands". But now she has changed her view. Holding her new baby in her arms she says: "this child will never join a milita. His father was killed in battle. And I saw too much suffering myself. What was it for? Nothing."
For others, like Eric, there is no way back to the normal world. Unable to tell his parents the truth about those he killed, and unwelcome in his village he says, "At home I am nothing, but in the milita I had power and money. I want to go back to the Bush."