Afghanistan: Children Under Threat

June 20, 2020: At least three children were killed in a mine explosion in Paikamari village in Ferozkoh city of Ghor Province.

June 18, 2020: A mortar bomb blast inside a seminary in Ishkamish District of Takhar Province killed nine seminary students. Six students were also injured in the explosion.

April 1, 2020: A roadside bomb killed six children while they were travelling with their family in a minivan in Helmand Province.

February 12, 2020: Five children were killed and three sustained injuries as a mine went off in Dasht-e-Archi District of Kunduz Province.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA)’s report, Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict First Quarter Report: 1 January 31 March 2020, released in April 2020, 152 children were killed (and 265 were injured) in Afghanistan in terrorism-linked incidents in the first three months of 2020. While the report does not give the proportion of these casualties inflicted by the Taliban, it does emphasise the Taliban was responsible for 505 civilian casualties (215 killed and 290 injured). According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), since April 1, 2020, at least another 28 children have died in such violence (data till July 5, 2020).

UNAMA data indicates that at least 7,059 children have been killed in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2019.

Meanwhile, the United Nations ‘Annual Report [2019] of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict’ released on June 15, 2020, described the war in Afghanistan as the world’s deadliest conflict for children in 2019, a status the country has held for five consecutive years. The report says that 874 children were killed and another 2,275 injured by the war through 2019:

Source: 2009-2019: UNAMA Annual Reports.

The prominent incidents involving child fatalities in 2019 included:

November 27, 2019: Eight children were killed when the vehicle they were travelling in hit a land mine in Kunduz Province.

November 4, 2019: Four children were killed in mine blast in an unspecified location of Baghlan Province.

November 2, 2019: Nine children were killed when a mine exploded as they walked to school, in an unspecified location of Takhar Province.

July 25, 2019: Three children, along with six women were killed in a roadside mine blast in the Wazir area of Khogyani District of Nangarhar Province.

May 9, 2019: Four children were killed in an explosion triggered by an Improvised Explosive Device explosion in Dawlatabad District of Faryab Province.

April 14, 2019: Seven children were killed while they were playing outside their houses, when a discarded mortar shell blew up in Dasram area, a village in the outskirts of Mihtarlam city in Laghman Province.

Afghanistan is all about never-ending conflict, poverty and devastation, where children suffer from the unspeakable horrors of four decades of war and conflict. Fatalities alone are no measure of the quantum of suffering inflicted on the children of Afghanistan: physical disability, recruitment by militants, destruction of education system, drug addiction, child labour, physical and sexual abuse, and the sheer, crippling exposure to the brutalities of war, of personal loss, and of relentless uncertainty, have scarred generations.

The education system has collapsed across wide areas in Afghanistan. Schools are often damaged in the constant fighting, and there is a constant threat of attack on school complexes. According to a May 28, 2019, UN News report, attacks on schools in the country surged from 68 in 2017 to 192 in 2018. According to a February 18, 2020, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, as of December 2019, 488 schools had been reported to have been forcibly closed due to insecurity, affecting around 150,000 children (72,000 girls and 78,000 boys). Uruzgan (204 schools), Paktika (117 schools) and Logar (64 schools) were the top three Provinces, with the highest number of closed or damaged schools. Moreover, an estimated 3.7 million children between the ages of seven and 17, nearly half of all school-aged Afghans, are out of school in the country.

War and destruction of infrastructure has caused extreme poverty in Afghanistan, and the unceasing conflict has destroyed the institutions meant to protect children. The high numbers of civilian casualties also indicate the loss of breadwinners within Afghan families, consequently forcing young boys and girls to quit school and help to financially support the family. The resultant crisis of child labour has ruined the lives of many children. With an estimated 55 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, children often work to contribute to their family income. According to a July 24, 2019, report, the increased financial struggle the country is experiencing, as well as the closure of hundreds of schools due to violent conflict, and poor enforcement of labour laws have led to an increase in child labour. Despite billions of dollars being pumped in for the protection for children, their condition remains precarious and their future prospects shabby.

Physical disability caused due to violent incidents is also at catastrophic levels. An estimated 95 per cent of children with disabilities do not attend school. The latest United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan Report, titled, Preserving Hope in Afghanistan: Protecting children in the world’s most lethal conflict, published in December 2019, revealed that an average of nine children were killed or crippled every day in Afghanistan in the first nine months of 2019. The report further added, almost 15,000 children were injured between 2009-2018, in Afghanistan. The presence of numerous land mines in the country still results in regular accidents, sometimes even fatal ones, especially among the very young who often fail to recognise dangerous sites. Many Afghan children are handicapped due to land mine explosions. The United Nations has been involved in clearing landmines in Afghanistan for 29 years, and over that period, has cleared some 730,000 anti-personnel and anti-tank mines at a cost of USD 1.5 billion in Afghanistan.

There is also the persistent problem of drug-addiction among children. Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report, 2020, Afghanistan is the country where the most opium is produced, accounting for approximately 84 per cent of global opium production. According to an April, 2019, report, the Taliban has an estimated USD 200 million-a-year opium trade, and around 60 per cent of Taliban’s finances come from the narcotics trade. Addiction among children wasn’t properly counted until 2015, when the UN reported that 9.2 percent of children up to 14 years old tested positive for one or more type of drugs and were likely to be active drug users. There is no further data on this parameter.

Children in Afghanistan have been used as soldiers by the Taliban and the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IS-KP). Poverty, unemployment and limited access to basic services, and the absence of social protection, have been key factors driving children to join parties to conflict. According to a February 26, 2020, report, the Taliban has nearly 50,000 children on a waiting list to be suicide ‘martyrs’. Their parents receive thousands of dollars as payment to use their child for this ‘holy cause’.

A UN report, Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan, published in September 2019, noted,

Armed groups were responsible for the majority of cases of child recruitment and use, namely, the Taliban (139), ISIL-KP IS-KP, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (17) and unidentified armed groups (23). Children were used in various roles, such as for planting improvised explosive devices, transporting explosives, carrying out suicide attacks and participating in hostilities.

Further, according to a February 18, 2020, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report:

The number of children in Afghanistan who will need humanitarian assistance in 2020 has jumped by 40 percent compared to last year, warns Save the Children, meaning an extra 1.5 million children need support to survive. In 2020, an additional 3.1 million people will need help, more than half of whom are children. That takes the total number of children who need some kind of humanitarian support to 5.26 million, making Afghanistan one of the worst places in the world to be a child.
On February 29, 2020, the US and the Taliban officially signed the ‘Agreement for bringing peace to Afghanistan’ at Doha, Qatar. Subsequently, it was claimed that this agreement would ensure enduring peace in the country. Worryingly, however, developments since then are not indicative of any quick ending to hostilities in the foreseeable future. The conflict in Afghanistan is likely to continue, and so will the sufferings of the children, as they have always been one among the worst victims in any conflict, world-wide.