The number of child casualties in the long-running Afghan war jumped last year, spiking 24% from 2015 in large part from leftover munitions, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report on Monday.
“Children have been killed, blinded, crippled — or inadvertently caused the death of their friends — while playing with unexploded ordnance that is negligently left behind by parties to the conflict,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The report also cited a 3% increase in total conflict-related civilian casualties in 2016 compared to the previous year — the highest number since the the United Nations started documenting the deaths and injuries in the conflict in 2009. That number stands at 11,418 deaths and injuries in 2016.
But the jump in child deaths and injuries is a particularly striking and disturbing trend in the mission’s annual report entitled “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict.”
Of the 11,418 casualties in 2016, 3,512 were children: 923 who died and 2,589 who were injured. These are records since UNAMA began documenting such figures eight years ago.
Children represented 84% of civilian casualties last year from “explosive remnants of war,” the report said.
Lack of knowledge about mine risks
Many children lack knowledge and awareness about munitions “left behind on the battlefield by parties to the conflict, who had failed to clear it,” the report said.
“Children living in conflict-affected areas are less likely to have received mine-risk education and, motivated by natural curiosity, frequently pick up unfamiliar and shiny objects near their homes while playing outside. Children also use metal detectors to find scrap metal to sell, often searching former battlefields or farmland where stray dud ordnance can be found.
“In many cases, while parents and children may be aware of the risks posed by the collection of scrap metal, poverty compels families to continue doing so,” the report said.
The report said “concrete steps must be made to “minimize the use of explosive weapons which produce dud ordnance — such as mortars, rockets, and grenades — in civilian-populated areas.” The results of the increase in deaths and injuries affect every aspect of society.
“The consequences of injury go far beyond physical harm: children blinded or crippled by the detonation of explosive remnants of war may be deprived of access to education; injured breadwinners may not be able to perform physical labour such as farming; and many of those injured may be unable to access medical treatment,including initial trauma treatment, and subsequent treatment for using prosthetics and physiotherapy.”
The report notes that child casualties more than doubled in 2016 from air attacks and cited airstrikes in November that left 20 children killed in Kunduz province. There was a 4% increase in child casualties caused by improvised explosives devices.
Afghan security forces and their international allies have been fighting Taliban militants and other radical groups for years. The report also said ISIS militants have established a presence.
“It is about time the various parties to the conflict ceased the relentless commission of war crimes and thought about the harm they are doing to their mothers, fathers, children and future generations by continuing to fuel this senseless, never-ending conflict,” Al Hussein said.