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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 21:10 GMT
Weapons that target children
amputee on crutches
Landmines kill or maim about 71 people a day
The Palestinian authority has accused Israel of being responsible for the deaths of five Palestinian schoolboys who were killed in an explosion in the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian officials say the children were killed when one of them accidentally detonated an unexploded shell or landmine while they were on their way to a United Nations school in the Khan Younis refugee camp.

Mines and unexploded ammunition kill about 8,000 children around the world every year.

In Afghanistan, one organisation has been combating that threat with an unlikely weapon - radio soap opera.

In New Home, New Life on the BBC's Pashto service, which broadcasts to Afghanistan, educational messages alert children to the dangers posed by live ammunition and landmines.

A recent storyline featured a young boy who, like many Afghan children, collected and sold scrap metal to help feed his family.
Land mine statistics
Number of countries containing mines: 68
Number of live mines in former war zones: 100 million
Average number of people killed or maimed by mines daily: 71
Number of children maimed or killed annually: 8,000
Cost of one mine: $3-$30
Cost of clearing one mine: $300-$1,000
Cost of clearing Afghanistan's mines: $500m

Despite repeated warnings, he continued until one day he picked up a piece of live ammunition and was blown apart.

The show's project director, Shirazuwin Siddiqi, said: "We interviewed many children and they said: 'We've seen the show. But we need the money to buy bread.'"

He added that the episode had produced one tangible result. A shopkeeper who bought scrap from youngsters was so distressed by the story that he abandoned the metal business and began selling textiles instead.

Land mines

Landmines are another of the programme's recurring themes.

The explosive devices have killed more people worldwide than nuclear and chemical weapons combined.

And again, children are particularly at risk.

Youngsters step on them while herding animals or searching for firewood. And warning signs are useless to children too young to read them.

Many explosives are designed to resemble attractive objects like pineapples or balls.

mine being removed
Removing one mine costs as much as $1,000
The infamous "butterfly mine", favoured by the Soviet forces in Afghanistan, was set off when young victims mistook them for pretty insects.

"Children are the targets," said UNICEF spokesman Mark Vergara.

"These are not like stray bullets. The aim is to get children."

Little boys have been known to use mines as wheels for toy trucks. In Cambodia, children have been seen playing boules with B40 anti-personnel mines.

Those who do survive may require several operations as they outgrow one prosthetic limb after another.

Civilian casualties

When mines are used on the battle front, the goal is to maim, rather than kill. Killing a man only removes one member of the opposition forces. Maiming him removes at least three, because other fighters must abandon the front to carry their fallen comrade to safety.

But when the devices are planted in civilian areas, the aim is to demoralise the community.

And the damage is not just physical and emotional. Mines also inflict serious financial damage.

Victims are rendered incapable of work, and a family member are forced to stay at home and care for them.

Children sometimes mistake mines for toys
Then there is the cost of removing the mines. Eliminating a $3 device can cost as much as $1,000.

The process is dangerous and slow.

At the current pace, experts say, it will take an estimated 600 years to remove all the devices now in place along paths and roads around the world.

Meanwhile, charities like UNICEF are running mine awareness programmes.

These alert people to the danger of mines and tell them what to do if they come across one.

UNICEF press officer Mark Vergara, said: "We tell them things like 'Don't touch it, retrace your steps, don't stray off onto the side of the road.' It's very basic stuff."

See also:

22 Nov 01 | Middle East
Palestinian children killed in blast
15 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Vietnam War's new victims
08 Aug 00 | UK
Call for cluster bomb ban
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