On 3 September in Herat city, UNAMA with members of the Department of Information and Culture, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), civil society and the local media and arts community jointly collaborated for the first ever Film Festival on the effects of armed conflict on children. The event was widely publicized locally in Herat, where approximately 220 film aficionados and critics were in attendance.

There have been many festivals in Herat, but none have ever focused on children’s issues, and in particular, effects of the conflict on children.

“The festival gave me a chance to know that there are many children who are suffering from hard work. I also learnt that there are many children affected by the armed conflict. I did not know this.” [Kayhan, a primary school student]

Film makers from Herat and Badghis provinces submitted films that touched on important and timely issues of children’s rights, including the effects of conflict on family life, education and healthcare attacks on schools the devastating impact of unexploded ordnances, explosive remnants of war and improvised explosive devices on children and recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict. A condition of registration was that films included at least one female as director, narrator, script writer or lead character.

The Festival provided an important opportunity for Afghans from all walks of life to exercise their cultural rights with courage and innovation. Many of the films reflected personal experiences or told the story of those closest to the writer. The films provided a creative and unique collective voice to children facing conflict across the country. Conducted under volatile conditions in Afghanistan, this Festival also offered an important avenue to inspire civil society, and particularly youth, to advocate and address human rights through a media platform.

The armed conflict in Afghanistan is increasing in terms of complexity, geographic scope and levels of violence, with particularly harsh consequences for children. In the first half of 2016, the United Nations documented:

  • 1,509 child casualties (388 deaths and 1,121 injured)
  • Children accounted for 85 per cent of all civilian casualties caused by Explosive Remnants of War (ERWs) – the second leading cause of child casualties
  • 46 incidents affecting access to education
  • 64 incidents affecting access to healthcare
  • 34 children recruited and used by parties to the conflict.

A total of 32 films were submitted by filmmakers from Herat and Badghis provinces. A number of entries were from women and the disabled community. Majority of participants and film makers were youth. Four judges from UNAMA, civil society and the AIHRC reviewed the films and selected the two top films. Certificates were presented to the best director, actor, actress, child actor, child actress, cinematographer and editor. The festival audience also received the opportunity to vote on the Best Film in the People Choice Award category.

The Best Film was from a 16 year old 11th grade high school student who also clinched the award for Best Director for her film entitled “Ja Khali” (Empty Space), which depicts the story of a young boy who desperately wants to continue his education but is forced to quit school and work as he becomes the sole breadwinner after his father’s conflict-related death. Unfortunately, this is a reality for a numerous and growing number of children throughout Afghanistan.

“I found the festival theme very strong and useful and therefore I was motivated to make a short film about the effects of armed conflict on Afghan children.” [Ms. Mahbooba Barat, Director and Producer of the top Film, “Ja Khali”]

The runner up film was ““Wazifa Shenas” (Duty Bound), directed and produced by a medical doctor serving in the Afghan National Border Police (ANBP). The film focuses on the dilemma faced by an ANBP commander when members of an armed group to which he has jailed threaten to kill his son unless he releases the jailed members.

A documentary is currently being produced to highlight the journey of the film makers, and focus on the reasons why they wrote their respective scripts, the production process and their personal experience in participating in the festival itself.