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Ongoing violence taking heavy toll on Afghanistan’s children, says UN envoy

Ongoing violence taking heavy toll on Afghanistan’s children, says UN envoy

Radhika Coomaraswamy
The ongoing violence in Afghanistan is taking a heavy toll on the nation’s children, who continue to be the victims of attacks, recruited and used as combatants and sexually abused, the United Nations envoy for children and armed conflict said today at the end of a five-day visit.

“I can’t think of any country in the world in which children suffer more than in Afghanistan,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told a news conference in Kabul. “Because you not only have the terrible violations that occur during war but also the terrible poverty and hard work that they have to engage in.”

During her visit the Special Representative met with President Hamid Karzai and other government officials, as well as representatives of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) military forces, aid agencies, Afghan, international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and children themselves.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said one of the grave violations against children in armed conflict is killing and maiming, and during her visit she met with many victims of attacks by the Taliban and other anti-Government elements.

She also met victims of the operations by the international forces, including children who had been maimed by aerial bombardment and night raids. “We had discussions with ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] commanders on how they should minimize this collateral damage with clear directions and procedures.

“It is important to put in place measures to prevent the excesses, to have prompt investigations and where necessary to pay adequate compensation,” she stated.

The Special Representative voiced concern over the recruitment and use of children as combatants, saying she had credible information that there has been an increase in the number of children in combat in the last few months, as well as verified reports of individual cases of suicide bombers.

“This is a terrible situation and we hope that action will be taken by everyone to help eradicate this,” she stressed, urging all parties, especially the anti-Government elements, to begin to take action to prevent children from being used on the battlefield.

Having received reports that there are children associated with the Afghan police force in different parts of the country, Ms. Coomaraswamy also had discussions with the Ministry of Interior and the National Directorate of Security to address this situation.

Another concern in Afghanistan is children who are detained after military operations. While she received exact figures from ISAF, she does not know exactly how many minors are being detained by the Afghan authorities or the American forces.

“No one seems clear about the guidelines or the standard operating procedures in this regard,” she noted.

“As we know from other areas in the world, keeping young people in detention often makes them into hardened individuals and only feeds the cycle of violence,” she added.

Afghanistan has also witnessed numerous attacks on schools, resulting in the deaths of innocent students and teachers. Some 228 schools were attacked in 2007 with 75 deaths and 111 injured. So far this year 83 schools have been attacked.

The Special Representative also received allegations of sexual violence against boys. “Afghan civil society is particularly concerned about what has been called the Bacha-bazi system or practice for young boys associated with military commanders. This practice has to be eradicated as it is against international humanitarian law,” she stressed.

Ms. Coomaraswamy highlighted the need to address the issue of impunity for violence against children. “People continue to violate children’s rights without any sense of feeling that they will be held accountable,” she stated, stressing the need to strengthen the justice system so that cases can be brought to court.

One of the major objectives of Ms. Coomaraswamy’s visit was to set in place the monitoring and reporting process called for by the Security Council in resolution 1612 (2005) to assess six grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict.

They are the killing or maiming of children, recruitment or use of children as soldiers, rape and other grave sexual abuse of children, abduction of children, attacks against schools or hospitals, and denial of humanitarian access for children.

The monitoring and reporting mechanism – which sets up a task force at the country level, led by the UN, but including independent NGOs and independent government institutions – will feed into a comprehensive report on the situation of children and armed conflict in Afghanistan that will be presented to the Security Council in October.