2009 worst year for Afghan children: rights watchdog

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 reports. 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) said in a statement Jan. 6.

“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% in the last quarter of 2009 compared to the same period in 2008, according to a report prepared for the UN Secretary-General, “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% 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,” said Hamida Barmaki, a child rights officer at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

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 labor, 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.

ARM calls the killing of eight teenaged students in the eastern province of Kunar on Dec. 26 “an appalling act of crime against civilian people” by foreign forces and their Afghan supporters. On Dec. 30, 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. “We are now at a critical juncture. The situation cannot continue as is if we are to succeed in Afghanistan,” said the UN report. (IRIN, Jan. 6)

See our last post on civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

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