By: Masouda Qarizada
KABUL: An average of nine children were killed or crippled every day in Afghanistan in the first nine months of 2019, a UN report said on Tuesday.
The latest UNICEF report, titled Preserving Hope in Afghanistan: Protecting children in the world’s most lethal conflict, revealed that it marked a 11% rise compared to the same period of 2018.
“It is largely due to a surge in suicide bomb attacks and ground engagements between pro- and anti-government forces,” according to the report.
“The numbers are shocking by any standard. As a result, the loudest message carried by our Child Alert is a call to action — a call directed at all those parties involved in the conflict to fulfil their responsibilities under international law, and to shield children from its consequences. They are obligated not merely to shield children themselves, but also to protect the essential services which children and their families depend on, the UNICEF statement added, saying in 2018, there were no less than 162 verified attacks on schools, hospitals and their staff.
“For us at UNICEF. one child killed or maimed is one child too many. Forty years is more than a generation – a generation that has known little other than violence and conflict. So, you may want to ask the question, why now? 2018 WAS DECLARED AS THE WORST YEAR FOR CHILDREN IN Afghanistan, but the numbers of civilians killed and maimed between January and September this year is already 94% of the total 2018 numbers,” the UN agency said.
UNICEF says conflict is not the only factor that makes Afghanistan one of the most dangerous places on the planet to be a child, adding it suffers regular natural disasters, like the severe drought in 2018, and the floods which affected over 250,000 people earlier this year. “Additionally: More than half the population live below the poverty line. 58 per cent of poor people in Afghanistan are children – an estimated 1 in 6. Poverty exposes children in particular to a whole range of risks – from violence, abuse, recruitment into armed groups, unsafe migration and various forms of exploitation, from child marriage to child labor.”
Additionally, 22 out of the 34 provinces are above the emergency threshold of acute malnutrition and only 51 per cent of children in Afghanistan are immunized from preventable diseases.
The UNICEF report also demonstrates the resilience of the Afghan people. In recent years, Afghans have taken significant strides towards improving the lives and recognizing the rights of their children. “Child mortality rates have declined steadily. Legislative frameworks on the rights and protection of children are increasingly being defined. And women’s and girls’ rights have made important gains. These fragile but important signs of progress must be consolidated and strengthened,” the report suggested.
The report proposes specifically a more determined effort to tap into the energies and ambitions of the country’s overwhelmingly youthful population. “About 400,000 young Afghans enter the labor market each year. But many of them lack the skills they need to find jobs and livelihoods. That needs to change.”
The report highlights the efforts made to help some of Afghanistan’s estimated 600,000 severely malnourished children, and the innovative work being done to provide safe water to displaced communities. In all, more than 12 million children were touched by this work in 2019.
“Our report acknowledges the extraordinary support UNICEF has received from its donors. It also appeals for renewed generosity in order to sustain and meet the ongoing and unfortunately needs of Afghan children in 2020. More broadly, this report delivers a positive message: the belief that, with the right support, children and adolescents can begin to break free of the cycle of violence and underdevelopment their country has been locked in for so long. In so doing, they can create a better future for themselves – and for Afghanistan.”
UNICEF called on all parties to the conflict to respect the civilian character of schools and treat them as zones of peace where children are safe from harm. The agency also asked the government of Afghanistan to priorities budget allocation to health care services to treat severe acute malnutrition and strengthen routine immunization services. It has also asked the international donors’ continued partnership to meet the urgent needs of the children in the country.
“Some US$240 million dollars is needed to meet and address the priorities for children in 2020,” UNICEF said, adding more than a generation of children have lost their childhood due to war and violence. “For the sake of all Afghan children, we call on ALL PARTIES to the conflict to engage in constructive dialogue and make peace happen for every child. 3 The onus is upon us all, the government, civil society, communities and families, to ensure the safety and protection for every child in Afghanistan. It is not an option, it is an obligation, challenging, but not impossible.”
Meanwhile, the Afghan government blamed the Taliban for the 97% of casualties among children in the country. In a statement, Nusrat Rahimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the roadside landmine blasts coupled with the suicide attacks are the two main factors behind the casualties of children. The Taliban have not commented on the report yet.