AFGHANISTAN: 2009 worst year for children - rights watchdog

News and Press Release
Originally published
KABUL, 6 January 2010 (IRIN) - Armed conflict killed hundreds of children and adversely affected many others in 2009 - the deadliest year for Afghan children since 2001 - an Afghan human rights group has said.

About 1,050 children died in suicide attacks, roadside blasts, air strikes and in the cross-fire between Taliban insurgents and pro-government Afghan and foreign forces from January to December 2009, the Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) a Kabul-based rights group, said in a statement on 6 January.

"At least three children were killed in war-related incidents every day in 2009, and many others suffered in diverse but mostly unreported ways," Ajmal Samadi, ARM's director, was quoted in the statement as saying.

Security incidents increased 65 percent in the last quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, according to a report of the UN Secretary-General entitled The Situation in Afghanistan and its Implications for International Peace and Security.

A sharp rise in the civilian casualties of war in 2009 has also been reported: The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded 784 conflict-related civilian casualties between August and October 2009 - 12 percent up on the same period in 2008.

"Both male and female children have been the increasing victims of war and criminality in Afghanistan but the government has not done enough to alleviate their hardship and to reduce their deprivation," Hamida Barmaki, a child rights officer at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), told IRIN.

ARM said it recorded at least 2,080 cases of grave violations of child rights in 2009. These included the recruitment of children as suicide bombers and foot soldiers, murder, rape, forced labour, and the denial of essential services by warring parties and criminal groups.

Insurgent attacks on schools, aid workers and facilities also deprived thousands of children - boys and girls - of access to education and healthcare, it said.

ARM has reported sexual abuse and the recruitment of children by police and private security forces, and has accused the Afghan government of doing little to stop unlawful practices.

Kunar incident

It has called the killing of eight teenager students in the eastern province of Kunar on 26 December "an appalling act of crime against civilian people" by foreign forces and their Afghan supporters.

On 30 December NATO said in a statement that its soldiers returned fire and killed nine individuals in Kunar Province who possessed "assault rifles, ammunition and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making".

An Afghan government-appointed fact-finding team, however, said all nine victims were civilians - eight of them students and none with links to armed groups.

Child rights groups have asked the Afghan government and its international supporters to enhance and expand efforts to minimize the impact of war on children, and provide support servicers for war-affected children.

"Critical juncture"

"We are now at a critical juncture. The situation cannot continue as is if we are to succeed in Afghanistan," said the UN report.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "change in mindset" in the international community and in the government of President Hamid Karzai in order to reverse the prospects of failure in the country.

"Unity of effort and greater attention to key priorities are now a sine qua non," the report said.