Protecting Children in Afghanistan – Advocacy, Action, and Accountability, September 2020

Situation Report
Originally published
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1. Operational Context

The United Nations Secretary General’s (SG) recent Report on Children Affected by Armed Conflict (CAAC) covering 2019 identified Afghanistan as the deadliest country on the planet for children in conflict for the fifth consecutive year. Children in Afghanistan are exposed to extreme harm as a result of the ongoing conflict, including killing and maiming from explosive remnants of war, improvised explosive devices and airstrikes. Many child casualties arise from ground engagements; of these, most are from indirect fire which shows that collateral damage is egregious. This Protection Brief identifies ways HCT members and others can operationalise aspects of the SGs Report to reduce the risks faced by children in Afghanistan.

At the heart of tensions in Afghanistan are power structures and the distribution of power; achieving ethnic balance; gender inequity; and friction between the outward-looking modernizing elements and the inward-looking conservative ones. Protection problems arise around ethnic, tribal, regional, sectarian, gender and ideological divisions amidst a rural and urban divide. Drivers of violence include the complicated history and politics and unresolved struggles for power, different interpretation of the application of Islamic laws, geopolitics and contested regional politics that make Afghanistan conflict-prone and at risk of external interventions which exacerbate instability.

Since February 2020, COVID-19 has added to the uncertainty and increased vulnerability and extreme distress of children and their families including returnee and deportee children who face discrimination and lockdown in Afghanistan after returning from abroad. Lockdown, deemed necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the population, has disrupted children's access to education, healthcare, livelihoods and social services, while placing new stressors on parents, guardians and caregivers. Evidence appears to indicate children impacted by COVID-19-related factors face increased vulnerability to recruitment and use by parties to the conflict. The Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR) documented a significant increase in child recruitment during the second quarter of 2020 as compared to the previous quarter. Nineteen children (0 girls, 19 boys) were verified, all incidents perpetrated by the Taliban in the north-eastern region. Additional unverified reports by both Afghan national security forces and armed opposition groups come from across the country. Stigma and discrimination related to COVID-19 may make children more vulnerable to violence and psychosocial distress. In the longer-term, women and girls may be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and forced to adopt negative coping mechanisms as they lose livelihood opportunities.

The peace process in Afghanistan now engaging key stakeholders if focused upon peace building and social cohesion can help ensure the protection of children is an integral part of peace agreements.
The process provides a unique opportunity for humanitarian actors to address some of the root causes of conflicts and reversals into conflict while reducing protection risk, vulnerability and overall levels of need to realize the common vision of a future in which no one is left behind. Protection of civilians, rule of law, rehabilitation and the delivery of justice are paramount to the recovery process.

This Brief envisions humanitarian, development and peace realms in Afghanistan working together cohesively and capitalizing on their respective comparative advantages to enhance the nexus between their domains to better protect and support children impacted by violence related to conflict. The UN Mission in Afghanistan was first mandated in March 2002 and humanitarian agencies engaged and present in Afghanistan many years before that. In acting on the recommendations mentioned below it is important for protection interlocutors to first identify the actions taken that worked well so they can build upon their successes using, where possible, innovative community-based programming.