PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Plastic replica guns have been banned by one Pakistani city in an attempt to stop children mimicking the militancy and extremist violence endemic in parts of the country.
These popular so-called "toy guns" — as officials and locals call them — fire plastic or rubber pellets and are based on the designs of weapons such as the AK-47 automatic rifle.
The city of Peshawar will put a temporary ban on anyone selling or carrying these guns during the Muslim festival of Eid that begins July 18, Deputy Police Commissioner Riaz Khan Mahsud told NBC News.
"The basic purpose behind the ban on the sale of toy guns is to discourage growing trend of arms and violence among the children," he said.
Peshawar is the regional capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province surrounded by tribal areas that have been ravaged by violence involving the Taliban and al Qaeda. The city was also the scene of an attack by Taliban militants on a school in December that left almost 150 students and others dead.
"Unfortunately, militancy and violence have promoted the culture of arms in our society and children are now frequently playing with toy arms instead of traditional toys," said Professor Zafar Iqbal, a pediatric ophthalmologist who has treated dozens who suffered serious eye injuries from rubber pellets.
Authorities don't keep figures on the number of children hurt by the so-called toys.
"When children use toy guns in childhood, they don't hesitate using the real arms when grow up"
Azra Nafees, a social and peace worker, hopes the ban will be extended across the province.
"We had been struggling for many years against sale of dangerous toy guns in the country in general, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in particular, as it is badly affected by terrorism and violence," she said.
Father-of-three Hameedullah Khan was also in favor of the move but said it should be permanent as well as country-wide.
"When children use toy guns in childhood, they don't hesitate using the real arms when grow up," he said.
Mahsud, the deputy police commissioner, said that while the ban was only slated to take place during Eid, it could be extended if it proved popular with the public.
The Peshawar area has a population of around 7 million people.
Alexander Smith reported from London.