KABUL, 21 June 2013 (IRIN) – One of the victims of last month’s attack on the International Organization for Migration (IOM) compound in the Afghan capital is still to be identified – a six year old boy.
The child’s body, found near the attack site, has not been claimed and the police have not been able to find the boy’s parents.
As a result of the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, the number of child casualties in the first four months of 2013 was 414 – a 28 percent jump from the 327 last year, according to the UN Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict. Of the 414 child casualties, 121 were killed and 293 injured.
“Afghanistan remains one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a child,” UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) spokesman Alistair Gretarsson told IRIN.
From 2010 to 2012, the UN report says 4,025 children were killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan.
Child casualties for the country totalled 1,304 for 2012. However, the reported 28 percent increase in child casualties in the first four months of this year is fuelling concern that 2013 could be one of the deadliest years yet for children in Afghanistan.
“Every day when I leave the house, my Mum worries about us,” said Mohammad Qayum, a 14-year-old boy selling gum on the streets of Kabul. “There are more attacks in Kabul and my friends working on the streets are also scared. We are a lot more scared than we used to be.”
Continuing a trend from recent years, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are still the leading killer, contributing to 37 percent of the 414 conflict-related child casualties.
Children caught in crossfire made up 20 percent of the child-casualties; “explosive remnants of war” – 18 percent; with the remainder attributed to other causes.
According to UNICEF, the armed opposition accounted for most of the attacks. However, the Taliban, just one of many armed opposition groups in the country, deny the claim.
Aside from being physically caught up in the violence, children suffer in a variety of ways from the conflict – from disrupted education, to forced recruitment as child soldiers, to the loss of family members.
Qayum’s father died in a suicide attack six years ago. He has three sisters and one older brother; so the US$4 he earns a day selling gum and flowers on the street is essential.
While the government and armed opposition groups, particularly the Taliban, have laws and regulations prohibiting the recruitment of children as fighters and suicide bombers, both continue to do so.
Ali Ahmad, 12 at the time, was searching for a job at the Spin Boldak border when he was abducted.
“They took me to a training centre and trained me for 20 days. They taught me how to use guns and weapons and also taught me how to do a suicide attack by pressing some button and telling me that I will be given a lot of money,” Ali told IRIN.
Findings from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) 2013 torture reportshow of the 105 child detainees interviewed, 80 (76 percent) experienced torture or abuse at the hands of Afghan security forces – a 14 percent increase compared to previous findings.
Children described being beaten with cables or pipes, being forced to make confessions, being hanged, having genitals twisted, death threats, rape and sexual abuse. Of all the violations against children in Afghanistan, sexual violence remains one of the most under-reported abuses.
“Although sexual abuse of both boys and girls is a crime under Afghan law, the sexual abuse of boys continues to be tolerated far too often, especially when it takes place in association with armed groups where families of the children involved have no real recourse,” Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch told IRIN.
Bacha-bazi – the practice of “owning” a boy for sexual purposes, usually by people with money and power such as government officials and militia commanders – rarely receives attention.
“The reality is that it is very widespread and it’s very prevalent in the Afghan society. It’s something that Afghanistan as a society is not able to discuss openly. The society is not ready to face that this problem exists and something has to be done,” said one analyst who asked not to be named.
Last year in southern Helmand Province several cases of rape and abuse were exposed. A district governor was found keeping a 15-year-old “boy”, whose identity was only highlighted after he killed an international soldier.
Conflict-related violence continues to hinder children’s access to education. Most violations such as the burning of schools, intimidation and threats against staff are reportedly the result of armed groups. However, schools are also used by pro-government forces to carry out operations.
As a result of the growing violence across the country, more and more youth are seeking a way out.
“Unfortunately the number of young people leaving the country today is increasing,” Gen Aminullah Amarkhel, head of Interpol, told IRIN in a recent interview.
According to a UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report released this week, Afghanistan is one of five countries that make up 55 percent of the world’s 45.2 million displaced people. One in every four refugees is from Afghanistan, making it the world’s largest contributor.
Children under 18 make up 46 percent of refugees worldwide. A record number of asylum seekers submitting applications in 2012 came from children, either unaccompanied or separated from their parents.
Conflict is the main cause, said the report.
“As the Qatar office opens and formal negotiations between the government and the Taliban perhaps finally start,” said Barr, “issues like protection of civilians and protection of children should be the first thing on the agenda”.