By Sanchita Bhattacharya*
On May 8, 2021, terrorists carried out a Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device attack in front of the Sayed Al-Shuhada School in the Afghan capital city, Kabul, killing at least 68 children and injuring 165 others.
On April 25, 2021, seven civilians including two children were killed in an Afghan Air Force airstrike in the Darawolang village of Jalrez District of Wardak Province.
On April 10, 2021, a roadside bomb killed two children and injured a woman in the Zwandohadira area of Arghandab District, Kandahar Province.
Meanwhile, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) report, “Afghanistan Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict First Quarter Update: 1 January to 31 March 2021”, the period covered recorded 552 child casualties (151 killed and 401 injured). There were 448 child casualties (153 killed and 295 injured) in the corresponding period of 2020.
Through 2020, there were 2,619 child casualties (760 killed and 1,859 injured).
Some of the prominent incidents of 2020 include:
December 18, 2020: At least 15 children were killed when a motorbike laden with explosives blew up near a religious gathering in Gilan District of Ghazni Province. The children had gathered at a home to recite verses of the Holy Quran, a regular activity on Friday, when the blast took place.
October 24, 2020: 24 people including teenaged students were killed in a suicide blast at the Kawsar-e-Danish education centre in Kabul. Islamic State claimed responsibility in a statement on Telegram, without providing evidence.
May 12, 2020: Militants in Police uniform attacked the maternity ward in Dasht-e-Barch Hospital killing 24, including newborn babies. The three attackers, who gained access dressed as Police officers, were all killed by security personnel.
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 the Ishkamish District of Takhar Province killed nine seminary students. Six students were also injured in the explosion.
As per UNAMA data, at least 7,819 children have been killed and 18,815 injured in Afghanistan between 2009 and 2020. The condition of children remains appalling in the war-torn country.
|Year||Children Killed||Children Injured|
The most striking statement of the latest UNAMA report, “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict Annual Report, 2020″ released in February 2021, describing the deplorable condition of children in Afghanistan, was by the father of victim on September 14, 2020:
There was crying and clamor of the children. They screamed ‘please help us.’ I then saw my son and four other children were wounded. They were all in critical condition. I took my son. There was blood all over his body. I took water and washed his wounds. His stomach, heart and lungs were wounded by the explosion. We would have liked to transfer him to the district hospital, but he died after a few minutes. When he died, he was looking towards me, straight into my eyes, but unable to speak.
Worryingly, the percentage of Taliban involvement in children’s causality is increasing. According to the UNAMA Annual Report, 2020, out of 2,619 child casualties (760 killed and 1,859 injured) between January and December 2020, the Taliban was responsible for 940 (262 killed and 678 injured), i.e., 35.89 per cent. In 2019, the Taliban was responsible for 11.18 per cent of total child casualties recorded in the country.
Not only the terrorists, but Government Forces (both Afghan and International) have also been responsible for mass child casualties. In 2020, UNAMA attributed 849 child casualties (279 killed and 570 injured) to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF), 46 child casualties (36 killed and 10 injured) to international military forces, and 23 child casualties (nine killed and 14 injured) to pro-government armed groups.
Action on Armed Violence in its May 6, 2021 report, noted that in Afghanistan, between 2016 and 2020, a total of 1,598 child casualties (785 children killed and 813 children injured) resulted from US and Afghan airstrikes.
Amidst rising insecurity, Afghan children continue to face several other challenges, including access to education, health care, and other basic services.
In 2020, UNAMA verified 62 incidents affecting children’s access to education in Afghanistan including attacks targeting or incidentally damaging schools; the killing, injury and abduction of education personnel; and threats against education facilities and personnel. Between January 1 and December 31, 2019, UNAMA verified 70 such incidents impacting access to education. Previously in 2018, UNAMA recorded 191 incidents affecting education.
UNAMA also verified 90 attacks impacting healthcare delivery in 2020, a 20 per cent increase as compared to 2019, when there were 75 such attacks.
In addition, Afghan children suffer from poverty, hunger and chronic scarcity of food as a result of the persistent violence in the country. Some 10 million children in Afghanistan are currently at risk of not having enough food to eat in 2021. According to UNICEF’s Afghanistan Report-Humanitarian Action for Children, 2021, 2.8 million children are acutely malnourished.
Meanwhile, on April 14, 2021, US President Joe Biden announced full withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, no later than September 11, 2021. “A drawdown is underway,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated on April 29, 2021.
In upcoming months, with foreign troops gone, it is widely expected that the overall security situation will deteriorate further in the country. Civilians will bear the brunt of increased insecurity, and children will not only be subject to greater violence but also to a spectrum of socio-economic misfortunes, extreme deprivation and an environment of uncertainty that have long made childhood in Afghanistan a relentless nightmare.
Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management