“Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born,” Daniel Toole, regional director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
The war in Afghanistan is the world’s longest-running major armed conflict. 2015 saw a substantial increase in civilian casualties and displacement which is continuing. The fighting is currently between the Afghan Security Forces (backed by US/NATO special forces and close air support), and the Taliban, al-Qaeda, the Haqqani Network and Islamic State militants. The widespread conflict impacts the lives of at least 6.3 million people. 106 000 people have been displaced in 27 provinces since the beginning of this year and will be facing increased hardship and malnutrition. Over half of the displaced are children.
UNAMA documented 1,943 civilian casualties in the first quarter of 2016, including 600 deaths and 1,343 injured
Over 70% of the population live in chronic poverty and around 8.1 million are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Killing and maiming of children
The intensifying of the conflict is having dire consequences for children. One quarter of all civilian casualties are now children.
A United Nations report on Children and Armed Conflict 2015 “… verified 1,306 incidents resulting in 2,829 child casualties (733 killed, 2,096 injured) — an average of 53 children were killed or injured every week. Of the casualties, 42 per cent (339 killed, 850 injured) were attributed to armed groups, including the Taliban, groups affiliated with ISIL and Hezb-i-Islami, and 23 per cent (177 killed, 471 injured) to the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces and pro-Government militias. A total of 55 child casualties were attributed to international forces, the majority of which were caused by air strikes (21 killed, 20 injured), and cross-border shelling (3 killed, 9 injured). A third of child casualties (937) could not be attributed to a specific party. The leading causes of child casualties remained ground engagements (55 per cent), improvised explosive device attacks (19 per cent) and explosive remnants of war (13 per cent). The number of casualties relating to air strikes by Afghan and international forces almost doubled in 2015”
Recruitment of children
Internally displaced children and populations in conflict-affected areas in particular are at risk of child recruitment by armed groups, including the Taliban, Haqqani network, Hezb-i-Islami and Jamat Sunat al-Dawa Salafia. In 2015 the verified recruitment and use of children more than doubled compared to 2014. 115 boys and 1 girl
Children are being detained for alleged association with armed groups by the Afghan government and by the international security forces. At the end of 2015, the Ministry of Justice reported that 214 boys had been detained in juvenile rehabilitation centres on charges relating to national security and 166 detainees arrested as children were still being held at the Parwan detention facility, 53 still under the age of 18. The Parwan Facility was transferred to the Afghan authorities by the international forces in 2013. There is concern that children are being held in a high-security prison for adults without due process and are frequently subjected to solitary confinement. Many children have no legal assistance or legal documentation, and some have reported threats and torture during interrogation.
Over 30 years of conflict and structural underdevelopment have created a humanitarian disaster which is far from over. Many rural areas are inaccessible in the winter. The nearest health centre is often many hours walk away. Afghanistan has one of the lowest electricity usages in the world. Only 38% of Afghans are connected to the grid and even then outages and load shedding is common. In rural areas less than 10% of people have access to grid connected power. Only 30% of households outside of cities have access to safe drinking water. There are 2 landline telephones per 1,000 people, with half of these phones in Kabul. Millions of Afghans are internally displaced or live as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Life expectancy in Afghanistan as risen to 59 years for men and 61 for women (WHO 2015). The maternal mortality rate, although still one of the highest in the world has reduced from 1600 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2002 to 400 in 2015. This is mainly due to dramatic increase in trained midwifes. Although the under five and infant mortality rate have dropped 97 and 77 per 1000 births respectively, Afghanistan still has one of the highest child malnutrition rates in the world with 40.9% of under fives suffering from chronic malnutrition. Both women and children suffer from vitamin and micronutrient deficiencies (particularly iodine and iron). Its predicted that in 2016 1 million children will need treatment for acute malnutrition. Currently only 40% of severely malnourished children receive treatment.
40% of the population live in areas with no public health care.
Opium and heroin addiciton
People in Afghanistan are using opium to block pain. The pain of hunger, sickness, physical and mental trauma. There are now around 3 million addicts in this nation of about 30 million people, including tens of thousands of children.
Progress is hampered by a shortage of qualified teachers and poor facilities. Attacks on schools by militants is continuing, including the closure of 68 schools in Nangarhar Province by ISIL – affiliated groups. Schools are also being used for military purposes.
Sexual violence against children
Sexual violence in the context of armed conflict in Afghanistan remains an important though under reported issue. Children, especially boys, continue to be sexually abused and exploited by armed groups or wealthy warlords. The practice of ‘bacha bazzi’ (boy plays) uses young adolescent boys for dancing (in women’s clothes) and sexual favours (rape). The boys are usually forced into this by economic circumstances and as a means of survival.
Fifty-seven percent of all marriages that take place in Afghanistan are classified as child marriages by UNIFEM (under the legal age of 16), and 70 to 80 percent of these as forced marriages. These practices underlie many of the problems faced by women and girls, with a correlation between domestic violence and child/forced marriage. Early marriages often contribute to girls dropping out of school and to early childbearing, with the attendant risks of health complications or maternal death.
Many Afghan girls and women are attempting to escape forced marriage or violent abuse by commiting suicide or disfiguring themselves through burning.