Thursday, February 10, 2011

Afghanistan: Two Afghan children killed in war everyday in 2010

Source: Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM)

Two Afghan children killed in war everyday in 2010

Kabul, 9 February 2011: About 739 children lost their lives in the conflict-related security incidents in Afghanistan from 1 January to 31 December 2010, according to figures compiled in an annual report of Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM).

The report Civilian Casualties of War 2010, released on 1 February 2011, said in total over 2,421 civilian Afghans were killed in the war last year out of which 30 percent were children (under-18).

A majority of the children were killed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) followed by suicide attacks, air strikes and mortars.

About 64 percent of the reported child deaths were attributed to the Armed Opposition Groups (AGOs); US/NATO forces were blamed for 17 percent of the deaths; pro-government local forces caused 4 percent of the deaths; and 15 percent of the deaths occurred in the security incidents which could not be attributed to an identifiable group.

While war-related child deaths in 2010 were significantly lower than a year before (1,050 deaths in 2009), the overall child casualties and rights violations trends remained strong. Children were highly vulnerable to the harms of war but little was done by the combatant sides, particularly by the AOGs, to ensure child safety and security during military and security incidents.

Many of the reported child casualties in 2010 happened in the insecure south of the country but security incidents involving children were also reported elsewhere in the country. In terms of direct impacts of war, the central Bamyan and the northern Panjshir provinces were the safest areas for children. Kandahar, Helmand, Kunar and Kunduz were among the least secure provinces.

An IED attack in Kandahar city on 15 December killed three children and wounded six others. A suicide attack on 20 November in front of the health department in Laghman Province killed two and wounded six other children. A motorcycle-borne explosion in Imaam Saheb District in Kunduz Province killed three and wounded five children. In three separate IED attacks on 6 October in Panjwaye District in Kandahar Province, five children were killed and three were wounded. Six children were killed and four were wounded in a mortar attack in Ali Abad District in Kunduz Province on 19 Septemer.

At least 13 children were killed in the first 10 days of massive US/NATO military operations in Marjah and Nad Ali districts in Helmand Province in February 2010. On 22 October, two children were killed by an airstrike of US/NATO forces in Farah province. On 24-26 July, 3 children were killed and 2 were wounded in crossfire between US/NATO troops and AOGs in Sangin District in the volatile Helmand Province.

A big majority of the victims were boys but at least 105 underage females were also killed. This gender disparity among the child victims of war could be due to the strong cultural restrictions on girls and women’s outdoor presence and activities which usually entail greater security risks.

The Taliban’s self-proclaimed Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) issued a Code of War which forbore the recruitment and use of boys without “facial hairs” (beard and mustache) for military purposes. However, the IEA and other AOGs were accused by the United Nations (UN) and other human rights bodies of recruiting minors as foot soldiers and using them to commit suicide attacks or plant IEDs.

There were also allegations that AOGs banned schools in Afghanistan in an effort to force families to send their children for religious studies in seminaries in the neighboring Pakistan where they were reportedly taught to participate in the Islamic war against Afghan and foreign forces in Afghanistan. Afghan intelligence officials reported that several would-be child suicide attackers were arrested in 2009-2010 who were purportedly brainwashed, trained and equipped in Pakistan and by the rogue Pakistani military and intelligence networks.

ARM expresses grave concerns about the recruiting and abuse of under-age boys by the newly formed irregular armed groups and local militias in some parts of Afghanistan. The commander of all US/NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, has been hiring and promoting local militias for short-term counterinsurgency purposes at the cost of immediate human rights violations and long-term stability risks.

The UN and the Afghan Government signed an agreement on 30 January banning the recruitment of children in the Afghan army and police ranks. However, the agreement does not stipulate anything about the abuse of children by pro-government militias.

The entire UN system in Afghanistan (about 14 agencies with an annual budget of over US$1 billion) has been bunkered in Kabul city and even its so-called humanitarian offices do not have contacts with the AOGs that have influence or presence in some 80 percent of the country. Despite the fact that the AOGs are accused of severe child rights violations, the UN system is unable or unwilling to engage with them on child rights and other pressing humanitarian issues. In order to reduce the harms of the war on children and to tackle child recruitment and abuse by the warring parties, apolitical negotiations and contacts with the AOGs are unavoidable.

Additionally, thousands of children were wounded, displaced from their homes and deprived of education and other essential services due to the war in 2010.

There were more than 450,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), mostly conflict-related, who lived in miserable conditions in the informal camps and settlements in different parts of Afghanistan. The situation of the displaced children was particularly dire as little child-specific protection and assistance services were delivered by the government and the international aid community.

The Taliban have not confirmed allegations made by Farouq Wardak, the Afghan education minister, regarding the IEA’s agreement on education for girls. Wardak has reported that the Taliban have agreed to allow segregated schools for girls in areas under their influence. However, what kind of schooling could be provided for the Afghan girls is yet to be discussed publically by Mr. Wardak. The international community must ensure that any understanding with the Taliban on females’ education would not compromise the values and principles enshrined in the constitution of Afghanistan.