Published on 20 Jun 2012 at 12:02
Little has been done to promote children’s literature in Afghanistan. Many education experts and advocates argue this must be a priority to advance the quality of children’s education as well as to further the country’s cultural development.
Children’s literature in Afghanistan is a modest collection of cultural songs, melodies, anecdotes and short stories handed down over the generations by mothers and grandmothers. Nazari Ariana, a researcher and children’s story writer explains the history of children’s literature, which saw its heyday between the years 1901 and 1919 during the reign of King Habibullah Khan in Afghanistan.
“A publication named ‘Saraj-ul-Atfaal’ [children’s light], was first published by Mohammod Tarzi in mid 1918 for children and it continued to be published during King Amanullah Khan’s period,” he said. “As a result of political changes, Saraj-ul-Atfal was no longer published. From 1941 to 1951, ‘Anes-e-Kodak’ [‘Anes’ for kids] was published for children and it was published unsteadily until 1971.”
Children’s literature experts, including poet and writer Partaw Naderi believe that the 1980s was the most fruitful decade for children’s literature in Afghanistan. “A separate unit was established for children’s literature at the Afghanistan’s Writers Association in 1981 and it produced a lot of books for children,” he said.
Children’s literature was all but forgotten.
The field of literature and cultural affairs suffered during the civil war and under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Children’s literature was all but forgotten.
Nazari Ariana believes that the government’s current approach to cultural affairs, particularly with literature and languages is not constructive, and has seriously stunted the development of children’s literature and education. “Whenever cultural activists advocated for the development of culture and literature, their efforts have failed or fallen victim to the government’s inattention,” he said.
After the fall of the Taliban regime, millions of children headed back to school. Despite successes in numbers, the majority of Afghan children face tremendous challenges to access education and little progress has been made to advance children’s literature.
Ariana says: “Any efforts in the field of children’s literature would be ineffective and unsustainable if the government does not adopt constructive measures to develop culture and literature, and provide opportunities [for writers] to produce children’s stories.”
The majority of Afghan children have suffered from civil war, poverty and violence. While other children around the world enjoy their childhood and learn to read from stories, Afghan children are too often robbed of those childhood joys.
Instead of going to school, Afghanistan’s street children learn how to sing the ‘incense song’ (sung while burning incense to ward off the ‘evil eye’ for those willing to pay a few Afghanis for the charm). They navigate through busy traffic with wet rag to clean cars to earn a few Afghanis.
Instead of going to school, Afghanistan’s street children
learn how to sing the ‘incense song’.
Many street children lost their fathers to war or their fathers are addicted to opium and unable to work. These children have no choice other to earn what they can for their families. Many work late at night in dirty environments just to find something to feed their family.
But unfortunately, the development of children’s welfare in Afghanistan is constrained by population growth and mounting poverty.
Despite all the difficulties, several organizations and individuals provide street children with basic living facilities and a handful of poets and cultural activists are endeavoring to develop children’s literature.
Partaw Naderi calls these efforts short-term and unsustainable. He says that cultural development, including books, music, and theatre, among and other arts, is not a priority in Afghanistan. Naderi attributes this to the government’s inattention to cultural policy, lack of a Copyright Law to protect writers, as well as the poor living conditions of Afghan people. Most Afghans are not able to spend money on books, poetry, music, etc.
Because literary development is not a priority, Afghan writers and poets find themselves dipping into their own pockets to produce their works. But, this is not a sustainable livelihood.
Naderi: “Those books have been written by unprofessional people, who are unfamiliar with the education system, particularly with children’s literature. These books do not attract children’s interest.”
According to Ariana, this situation has negatively impacted all aspects of cultural development in Afghanistan, particularly for children. “Television stations don’t have special programs for children because these programs are rarely sponsored,” he said. “And those TV stations which do broadcast children’s programs do so at inopportune times.”
Additionally, literature experts and advocates criticize the Ministry of Education for producing low quality books and education curricula.
“The books published by the Ministry of Education are low quality and full of mistakes,” said Naderi. “Those books have been written by unprofessional people, who are unfamiliar with the education system, particularly with children’s literature. These books do not attract children’s interest.”
Naderi urges the government to reassess its priorities for children and appoint qualified writers to author books for children of all ages.
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