A child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier whereas childhood refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years. (UNICEF) The understanding of childhood varies significantly from country to country and culture to culture. Childhood is also affected by the socio-political and economic factors. In an effort to portray the condition of children in a war-affected area such as Iraq, Turtles Can Fly is a deeply humanistic take on international conflict, unafraid to delve into the stories of marginalised people, including children. It was also the first film shot in Iraq right after the fall of Saddam in 2003. It also showcases authentic performances from its cast of real-life children amid actual scenes of destruction.Millions of children and young people worldwide are affected by armed conflict. They are confronted with physical harm, violence, danger, exploitation, fear and loss.
Many children are forced to flee. Some witness the death of loved ones. Some are forced to pull the trigger themselves. Communities are ripped apart and can no longer provide a secure environment for children.
REVIEW OF THE MOVIE:Bahman Ghobadi’s “Turtles can fly” focuses on the Kurdish children of Kanibo, a village on the border of Iraq, just before the US –led invasion. One of the characters named Satellite is a teenage boy who looks after a bunch of children. All of them are orphans. To survive, they deactivate and remove mines embedded in the farms by Americans.
The landmines are later sold by Satellite to the UN or to the local black market. The film is opened with the suicidal leap of a teenage girl named Agrin who has an armless brother named Hengov, who unscrews the mines with his teeth. She also carries an unexplained child everywhere called Riga. Pashow is the best friend of Satellite, who has one non-functioning leg. He is also a victim of exploding mines. The movie portrays the time just before the US-led invasion of Iraq. To know the latest developments, the village traders pressurise him to set up a satellite, translate what is being announced by Mr. Bush on Fox News to them.
While Satellite flips through the channels, the elders turn away from the prohibited material.One night, Hengov wakes up early and finds out that Riga is not in the tent. Riga, the blind child is standing near the border fence facing an armed Turkish Guard. Satellite has a romantic crush on Agrin, so, to impress her, he saves the child.
In his further attempts to impress her, he jumps into the pond to find a red fish for her, only to find that she’s long gone before he comes out.Hengov has a futuristic vision. He predicts a truckload of warheads would explode in the warfare junkyard, Satellite trusts the forecast and acts on it. As a result, the children increase their trust in him. Around the place, Riga is seen peeking into the metal cylinders and crying “Mummy/Daddy” to which Argin doesn’t respond.The Kurds later hand out gas masks to protect against chemical attack.
Satellite makes sure that Argin gets one and promises to find one that will fit the blind child. Later, Satellite relies on the prediction by Hengov about the beginning of war. Satellite fears that a wrong prediction will make him lose face in the village.
To buy a few weapons, the children go to a local market in which there is a barter system. Satellite trades the mines in exchange of two weapons for rent of three months. He also buys a necklace.To get rid of the child, Agrin ties the blind child with a tree so that he steps on one of the mines. Satellite, while saving him from the landmines, encounters one and loses one leg. When “Saddam falls”, Satellite’s friend, Pashow gets him a red fish so that he doesn’t need to go into the water anymore to find one. Pashow leaves for the city with his uncle to make some money.
Hengov predicts that his sister is going to kill the child by drowning him into the pond. He immediately wakes up, starts crying, and reaches to the pond only to find Satellite sitting near the pond crying after his failed attempt to save the child. Hengov, then, himself jumps into the pool but finds nothing. Later, he runs towards the cliff, shouts his sister’s name, finds her slippers and realises that his sister has committed suicide.MAIN ARGUMENTS:Childhood and playFor children in war-affected zones, social norms very well affect the understanding of childhood as a universal concept. Childhood is a set of ideas or concepts, which define children’s nature and the kinds of relations they have with other members of the society (Wyness, 2012: 10).
These ideas include the kind of environment they engage with. Childhood of the Kurdish children comprises of working in the fields to collect landmines which is, life threatening, but, necessary for their survival. The context of play in this movie is much different from what has been universally accepted. “Play is seen a part of childhood in that it is a period when they (children) have no responsibilities. Being a child and gong through the period of childhood means having no economic and moral responsibilities; it means not having to work” (Wyness, 2012: 11). But in case of the Kurdish children, responsibilities have been shown to come at a very young age.
Children are not only seen collecting landmines, but also buying weapons from the market. It is the time when they could be playing with toys, but their condition deprives them to do so.Access to basic facilitiesThe heavy bombardment of 1991 in Iraq targeted these facilities as well as the electrical power plants which ran them. The sanctions banned the import of chlorine products and the necessary parts for repair. This resulted in contaminated water systems, causing water-borne diseases. There are nearly no facilities available to the children, as shown in the movie.
There is no access to clean water. The children are bound to go to the nearest water body which is contaminated. During the 1980s Iraq had the best health system in the Middle East. Now after the dire sanctions era and invasion and occupation it is in a deplorable condition. It suffers from poor facilities, desperate shortage of skilled staff and is rife with corruption. Moreover, there are no medical facilities available. For e.
g., When Satellite got injured, his friends helped him reach to the place to lay down. One of the villagers said that he would try to call the doctor the next day.
Another incident shows Agrin having a toothache when her brother asks her to drink some kerosene. The destruction of the war and increasing population growth, has left Iraq with a massive shortage of housing. The UN estimates that 1.3 million units need to be built just to meet current needs. Many children are forced to live in cramped conditions. Child labour and the working childThe children in the movie have ‘work responsibilities at an early age both within and outside the house’ (Baker and Panter-Brick, 2000: 165).
These children are ‘devoid of schooling and require hard labour for survival’ (Balagopalan, 2002: 22). In Iraq, the worst forms of child labour are seen which is life-threatening. According to UN, Child labour is a violation of fundamental human rights and has been shown to hinder children’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage. Engagement with landmines and weapons, in the movie, is also affecting the children physically and psychologically.
For e.g., Satellite is shown to be emotionally shattered after losing his leg due to stepping on a landmine. The children in the movie are not a conceptual category. “Children are there not in their capacity as children, but rather in their toddler years as animal-like creatures and later as small adults” (Qvortrup, 2005: 2) Working as ‘small adults’, these children are also not aware of the laws and policies that can help them live a better life. And even if they know, the larger socio-political situation of the country doesn’t give them the freedom to do so.
Poverty and lack of social security are the main causes of child labour.The situation of the Kurdish children can be compared to the concept of “Manush and Khatni” given by S. Balagopalan. The countries in the third world also includes Iraq. The children in the movie are marginalised children in the Third World.
These childhoods are within their own economic, social and cultural realities. Child Sexual AbuseChild sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. (WHO, 1999) “Sexually abused children are depicted as innocent victims with little or no ability to deal with the problem.” (Wyness, 2012: 21) Children in war/armed conflict are also vulnerable to sexual abuse. Human rights for women and girls have taken a massive backward step since the 2003 invasion. Rape, prostitution, forced marriage, temporary marriages, ‘honour’ killings, sexual trafficking, domestic violence are now rife throughout Iraq and in Iraqi refugee communities and are taking place with impunity.
Female genital mutilation still takes place in Iraqi Kurdistan. In the movie, Arkin also falls prey to a similar situation. Her innocence is stolen/betrayed. Portrayal of a motherA mother is the window for the child to the world. She safeguards her child from danger and difficulties.
However, the concept of motherhood is not universal. According to UNFPA, every day in developing countries, 20,000 girls under the age 18, give birth. In case of CSA (Child sexual abuse) survivor, teenage pregnancy is a traumatic situation which effects physical as well as psychosocial well-being.
In Agrin’s case, her blind child, Riga, is not being taken care of. Because of the abuse she has faced, she wishes to abandon the child and even tries to murder him several times. The feeling of motherhood is a horror to her. She considers him a mistake of the people who assaulted her and killed her parents.
In the end of the movie, she ties a stone to Riga’s leg and pushes him into the pond which results to his death. Her story challenges the notion of motherhood. Factors like sexual abuse, psychological and cognitive vulnerability, social isolation, single parenthood, poverty, physical immaturity, etc. should be considered to construct a universally accepted concept of motherhood.EducationThe children in the movie have no access to formal education. They only have opportunity to learn from their experiences. The only skill that they learn from their peers is to deactivate and remove the landmines which will help them earn money. For e.
g., Satellite knew basic calculations as he used to go to the market to buy weapons, etc. He also knew how to speak English as he communicates with the traders of the mines.CONCLUSION:In various countries of the world, conflict has led to several issues that hinder the quality of life that a child requires for the holistic development. The basic needs and safety needs (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs) are important to be attained to avoid unattained feelings or consequences. The children in war-effected areas lack sufficient nurturing during childhood fail to thrive even when they are warm, sheltered and fed. The need for safety and security is not fulfilled which creates fear among the children. Conflicts also affect the education of children.
The school provides a sense of protection, normality and routine to the children. It is a place where situation of children can be monitored and the needs of individuals such as for counselling, nutritional supplements or protection from abuse can be met. In Iraq, out of 10 million school aged children, 2 million are currently out of school. Conflicts/war also lead to loss of familiar domestic environments which hamper the child’s well-being – social, emotional, psychological. The separated children are bound to take care of themselves during the period when they need care and protection from their family and environment. Armed conflict leads to increase in sexual abuse due to which children face trauma. Children involved in labour during the war are exposed to hazardous tasks which also leads to disability, both physical and mental, and even loss of life. Poor nutrition and disruptions in health service provision also lead to disability.
The political frame of a war-effected country gets severely disbalanced due to which various laws and policies for the welfare of children no longer function. For e.g., UN Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1989 made the first legally binding document concerning child rights. The convention consists of 54 articles covering all four major categories of child rights: Right to life, Right to development, Right to protection, and Right to participation. But, in Iraq, during war, none of it was functional. War-caused poverty: Severe deprivation such as limited access to food or water negatively impact children’s development.
Children suffer from chronic malnourishment and chronic distress.The Human Development Index (HDI) 2017: With a medium HDI: 0.649, Iraq is on 121 rank.Economically unstable country decreases the family’s financial resources which affects child’s well-being.
National and state funds that are allotted for the welfare of children are not utilised during war/post war. A large population has the potential to be great for economic development. When there are more people, more work is done.
More money is created with more employment. But during war, there is a loss of life in masses which decreases the productivity of a country. To conclude, the politics pf the movie ‘turtles can fly’ shows that despite whom world leaders befriend and alienate; and whether countries form alliances, or they become enemies; and how geopolitical agendas change over time; in any conflict or war, children suffer the most.
They have no say in their existence, where they live and how they live their lives. Daily life is about a full stomach, a warm bed and their parents. When leaders make choices, children are at their mercy — children are like human satellites. The universal image of children is far away from the reality.
It doesn’t encompass the dynamic situations in which children of the world live.