The deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan throughout the reporting period had an immense impact on children with over 14,000 grave violations verified in four years, reveals the fourth report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan.
The four years covered in the report have been particularly devastating for boys and girls, with children accounting for almost a third of all civilian casualties. More than 12,500 children have been verified killed or maimed between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2018, mostly from ground engagement, non-suicide Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Explosive Remnants of War (ERW), airstrikes and suicide and complex attacks. Armed groups were responsible for 43% of the child casualties, but attributions to Government and pro-Government forces remain of significant concern.
“Children in Afghanistan have known nothing but heartbreaking realities as a result of violence and war. The number of child casualties is appalling, and I urge all parties to immediately put an end to the suffering of children. Whilst we welcome measures put in place by parties to mitigate child casualties, more remains to be done to ensure strong protection for the most vulnerable ones affected by the conflict in Afghanistan: boys and girls,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba. The last weeks have demonstrated that the suffering of children continues relentlessly, with attacks killing and injuring many more children.
The recruitment and use of children continued with 274 children verified, mainly by armed groups including the Taliban and ISIL-KP. Afghan security forces were also responsible for the recruitment and use of children, however, significant progress was made to end and prevent recruitment and use by Afghan security forces throughout the years.
Furthermore, detention of children on national security charges including for their alleged or actual association with armed groups persisted throughout the reporting period. The Special Representative reminded that children should be considered primarily as victims and detention only used as a last resort and for the shortest period of time. Priority should also be given to address the needs of children formerly associated with parties to conflict, those released from detention facilities or rejected during formal recruitment processes and prevent further recruitment. Special Representative Gamba called on Member States to reaffirm their engagement for children and fully support sustainable and long-term reintegration programmes, thus giving a chance to thousands of boys and girls to heal.
The UN verified 17 cases of sexual violence against children, but the violation remains highly underreported for fear of stigma and impunity. Attacks on schools and hospitals remained of great concern during the reporting period with 832 attacks verified, mostly by armed groups. It is of utmost importance that girls’ and boys’ access to education is safeguarded at all times, now and in the future and the Special Representative calls on parties to refrain from attacking schools and hospitals, also when used as polling-centers during election time.
The abduction of children continued to disrupt their own and their families’ lives with a verified total of 231 children abducted, while 249 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children were verified, including targeting demining activities and polio vaccination campaigns. Afghanistan is one of the last countries where polio remains endemic.
Nevertheless, some positive developments took place during the reporting period including important steps by the Government of Afghanistan in the implementation of the Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by its security forces, notably the entry into force of the revised penal code criminalizing child recruitment and bachi bazi, the training of security forces, and the establishment of Child Protection Units in Afghan National Police recruitment centers in all provinces. Additionally, the Special Representative commended the adoption of Protocol V to the 1980 UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons concerning explosive remnants of war and calls for its swift implementation. The Special Representative also welcomed the adoption of policies and directives by the Government to address grave violations against children and expressed hope that such measures will lead to broader protection measures for children and to greater accountability for all perpetrators.
Furthermore, the Special Representative commended the work of child protection actors on the ground facing harsh conditions and extreme security constraints and called on the International Community to continue to support their crucial work.
“While the protection and well-being of children can only be reached through long-term peace, we must seize all available opportunities to improve right now the protection of boys and girls in Afghanistan. This includes prioritizing their protection and needs in dialogue, talks and peace negotiations, as children are the future generation,” said Virginia Gamba. She added that the United Nations confirms its readiness to support parties to conflict to end and prevent grave violations against children so that boys and girls in Afghanistan can live a life free of violence.