report on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan makes very sad reading. It shows, for example, how children have been used by anti-government elements for suicide bombings and planting explosives, or recruited to the Afghan National Security Forces, despite official government policy banning such practices.
The report also sheds light on the detention of children for alleged association with armed groups, on the number of children killed or maimed by suicide attacks and on sexual violence committed by armed groups against boys and girls.
Figures in the report show that women and children made up a higher proportion of those killed and injured in 2010 compared to 2009, even though civilian casualties declined by 30 per cent. For example, there was a 155 per cent increase in child deaths through IEDs and suicide attacks by insurgents in the first half of 2010 compared to 2009.
The Country Task Force for Monitoring and Evaluation was able to verify 26 out of 47 reported incidents that provided evidence that children are recruited by armed groups and by the security forces, including the police.
In some cases children were unwittingly used as suicide bombers. For example, in April 2009, an improvised explosive device placed in a wheelbarrow transported by a young boy prematurely detonated 15 metres from the Governor’s office in Samangan province, killing the boy. It was later established that he knew nothing of the device.Seven cases of children recruited from across the border in Pakistan and subsequently used to conduct military operations in Afghanistan were confirmed. Several examples of young boys recruited by the Afghan National Police are included in the report.
There are around 382 children detained in Afghanistan on charges related to national security, of which 97 were confirmed as relating to the conflict; all were between 9 and 17 and included one girl. Between October 2009 and January 2010 in Helmand, eight boys aged from 15-17 were charged with having links to the Taliban. Three were found guilty and sentenced to three years' in prison.
One notable case involved Mohammad Jawad, who was arrested in his early teens and detained for six years in Guantanamo, but returned to Afghanistan in August 2009. Since his return to Afghanistan, he has been arrested three times by the National Directorate of Security and held in their custody, allegedly for links with ex-prisoners from Guantanamo Bay suspected of still belonging to armed opposition groups in Afghanistan.
During the two years covered by the report 1,795 children were injured or killed as a result of conflict-related violence, although this is likely to be an under-estimate. In addition, 568 children were injured or killed as a result of landmines. At least nine children have been executed by the Taliban on suspicion of being spies.
A total of 131 children were reported killed in 2009 as a result of Coalition airstrikes, mostly in the south.
This is a very powerful report on a subject that receives little or no coverage. It makes it clear that the children of Afghanistan are paying a very high price for the conflict in their country.