The cover photo of a new U.N. report speaks a thousand words: more and more, the protracted conflict in Afghanistan is claiming children as its victims. A reader hears these running children’s screams viscerally – much as she felt viscerally the life of a photographed 8-year-old child soldier in Syria.
Sadly, this visceral impression is confirmed by the text of the 94-page Mid-Year Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, issued yesterday by UNAMA, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. The report begins with a boy’s account of his mother’s killing in a Kabul suicide attack, then sets out grim statistics:
‘Escalating deaths and injuries to Afghan children, women and men led to a 23 percent resurgence in civilian casualties in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012. UNAMA documented 1,319 civilian deaths and 2,533 injuries (3,852 casualties) from January to June 2013 ….’
This growth, the report continued,
‘reverses the decline recorded in 2012, and marks a return to the high numbers of civilian deaths and injuries documented in 2011.’
Increasingly, killings caused by improvised explosive devices and gunfights affect children (up 30%) and women (up 61%). The UNAMA report stated that international forces’ handover of security responsibility to national forces had “met with increased attacks by Anti-Government Elements” – elements to whom 3/4 of the deaths were attributed.
Other documented offenses against children included:
► Attacks on education; that is, attacks on students and their teachers, destruction or occupation for military use of school buildings
► Recruitment and use of children into the government’s armed forces and into armed anti-government groups
► Attacks on hospitals, other health-care facilities, and medical personnel
► Displacement, within or without the country
Recommended to stem this tide? Compliance by all parties with the law, including international humanitarian and human rights treaties aimed at protecting children. A simple answer, difficult to implement.