Afghanistan conflict still the world’s deadliest for children, UN says

A young Afghan boy tends to a goat near a poppy field in Afghanistan's Kandahar province in April 2019. The Afghan War remains the world's deadliest conflict for children, according to a United Nations report.



KABUL, Afghanistan — The war in Afghanistan was the world’s deadliest conflict for children last year, the fifth consecutive year the country has held that status, a United Nations report said.

Some 874 children were killed by the war throughout 2019. They were among the 3,410 young Afghans who suffered from “grave violations,” which included maiming, abduction, sexual abuse and attacks at schools and hospitals, the report released Monday said.

The Taliban were blamed for causing over 1,238 child deaths and injuries, the largest number attributed to any single group.

Pro-government forces were blamed for just under a third of the child deaths and injuries documented, including 248 that were attributed to international forces.

“I am extremely concerned about the increased number of children killed and maimed by all parties,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said about Afghanistan in the annual Children in Armed Conflict report. “I remain concerned about casualties caused by government and international forces, and I urge them to review, strengthen and implement current tactical protocols to prevent [them].”

The report noted measures taken by international forces to protect Afghan civilians from combat and the decreased number of child casualties from airstrikes.

Steps taken by the Afghan government to prevent child recruitment were also lauded in the report.

However, a combined 64 boys — some as young as 10 — were still recorded as being recruited by the Taliban, Afghan National Police and pro-government militias last year. The boys were used for combat support and sexual purposes, the report said.

The Taliban and pro-government forces were both blamed for sexually abusing children, which the U.N. identifies as anyone below age 18. Two boys were said to be used as “bacha bazi,” a term used to describe boys used for sex acts by older men, which has a long history in the country.

Afghanistan, along with Syria, Palestine and Somalia were named the top places in the world where children had been deprived of education and health care because of attacks or closures of facilities for military use.

Afghan children were also among the over 2,500 said to be detained for alleged or actual association with armed groups like the Islamic State.

Detained children must be treated as victims, and any incarceration should be short and used as a last resort, Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a statement.

Globally, the U.N. verified over 25,000 grave violations against children in armed conflict, equal to roughly 70 per day, and similar to 2018’s total.

Citing 4,400 verified global incidents, the report revealed a 400% jump in the denial of humanitarian access to children last year, which Gamba called “by far [the] most worrisome trend in 2019.”

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Two children look after animals in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province in April 2019. The Afghan War remains the world's deadliest conflict for children, according to a United Nations report released June 15, 2020.