PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Sept. 18 (News Lens Pakistan) The holy month of Ramadan in Peshawar this year brought the usual fasting, family gatherings – and a one-month ban on toy guns.
The ban has become routine in this part of Pakistan as part of a gun safety education effort. But it does not go far enough for some seeking a nationwide ban.
"Since the sale of toy guns increases in Ramadan, because parents buy their children toy guns as an Eid gift, therefore a ban is imposed every year during the month of fasting," Feroz Shah, spokesman for Peshawar Deputy Commissioner Riaz Khan Mehsud, told News Lens Pakistan. Dozens of shops were closed for a month under the ban.
However, the Poha Foundation, which is leading the campaign against toy guns, called a ban unrealistic.
"Just banning the sale of toy guns for one month is not an effective strategy,"' said Shafiq Gigyani, the organization's chief executive officer. "The government should impose a complete ban on toy guns through legislation so that this menace is tackled once and for all."
He noted that four major importers sell toy guns in Peshawar's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
"It is unfortunate that none of them is aware of the harmful effects of toy guns on the behavior of the children. Obviously, a businessman is concerned only about the bottom line. It is for the government to protect people from the harmful business activities carried out in the name of fun or profiteering. We are inadvertently promoting militancy in KP," Gigyani said.
While local police say they have no statistics linking toy guns to violence, Mehsud said the ban is justified amid the growing militancy and gun culture in the area.
Mehsud also said many of the guns contain rubber bullets that can cause harm.
Saad Bashir, a professor of psychology at Allama Iqbal Medical College, agreed, saying children often act out real-life situations at a young age and that guns can spur them to violence later in life.
"If we give toys that are essentially associated with violence or aggression, children can develop an attitude of dominance and heroism," Bashir told News Lens. "In the present context, where children, especially in Pakistan, are exposed to violence in their daily lives, not only through media or PlayStations but through terrorism-related incidents happening every now and then around them, toy guns can create a false notion of power and influence leading to aggressive behavior in adulthood."
Jaffer Shah, a member of the Khyber Pakhtunwa provincial assembly, has long pushed for legislation banning toy guns. He sponsored legislation banning the sale of such toys last year and said he plans to "move another resolution this year to shake the government out of its slumber on this important issue."
Although last year's resolution was adopted "unanimously" by the assembly, there is "a complete lull on this account," Shah said.
"Toy guns are a symbol of terror," Shah said. "Children learn that using force is not a harmful thing. This attitude could eventually lead them to militancy and wild attitudes."
Nabi Gul, who owns a Peshawar toy business, said toy guns are sophisticated and dangerously resemble real guns. He said toy guns that fire rubber bullets are also available in the market.
Traders counter that the ban has been poorly communicated by authorities, leaving many shop owners confused.
Nasir Khan, who owns a toy shop in Peshawar's well-known Pepple market, said the district's administration told them of the ban only after sellers had purchased millions of rupees worth of toy guns, mostly from China, for sale.
"What does the government want us to do with this inventory? Let it rot? We will definitely sell it," he said. "Either the government should put a permanent ban on toy guns or stop imposing one-month ban."