Posted by: Shelly


When I was nine, my biggest responsibility was to make my bed in the morning and sometimes I didn’t even do that.  Like most kids, I was completely reliant on my parents and other adults to meet my needs. But what if one of my parents died and it was now up to me to not just make my bed, but also support my family?  Would the nine-year-old me have known what to do?

Jamil Khan, a nine-year-old in Pakistan, was presented with such a problem when he became the head of his household after his father was killed during a Pakistani military operation against the Taliban. His father was one of hundreds of civilians in Pakistan killed or injured amidst ongoing military operations against the Taliban. And in his father’s wake, young Jamil is responsible for supporting his family — a task difficult for an adult, let alone a child who has to quit school and earn a living.

But what other option does a family like Jamil’s have?  What can help a family heal its wounds, and then pick up the pieces and continue to support itself? An unlikely source has an answer: Colonel Nauman Saeed, a Pakistani military officer who led operations in Bajaur Agency, calls for the global community to look beyond donations and aid.  He explains, “We need compensation and not ‘alms’ for the victims of wars because the world in general and the US in particular owes it to us… We need to hurry and reactivate their livelihood and launch projects for education, health, power supply and create jobs to avoid these people falling into the Taliban trap again.”

Families like Jamil’s need this compensation, not alms, because it addresses two needs.  The first, as Col. Saeed explains, is to compensate for losses and the second is for psychological trauma. Monetary compensation for families like Jamil’s can help the family stay afloat after losing its head-of-household and can keep Jamil from being forced into the workplace at such a young age.  But compensation addresses more than economics: it can also help a family begin to heal after loss or harm.  It’s recognition of the loss and pain the family has gone through and can serve as an official apology, which is often dignifying despite the tragedy.

Unfortunately, compensation payments won’t last forever and this is where sustainable aid enters the scene. Long-term aid, like livelihood projects, isn’t a handout or a donation; rather, it’s implemented by experienced humanitarians and often enables a family to create an income on their own for the long haul. Families who’ve lost their source of livelihood – be it their breadwinner, home, business or job – deserve the opportunity to support themselves once again.

As warring parties review the way they react to “collateral damage,” we hope to see more immediate compensation to get families back on their feet and longer term aid, like livelihood assistance, to sustain them.  Jamil and his remaining family deserve those opportunities.

Image courtesy of CIVIC