Killed or maimed, Afghan confict takes a rising toll on children

Almost a third of all civilian casualties in 2016 were children, UN says, with 923 deaths and 2,589 injured.
Danielle Bell, human rights director for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, holds a copy of the 2016 report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan at a press conference in Kabul on February 6, 2017. Rahmat Gul / AP Photo
Danielle Bell, human rights director for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, holds a copy of the 2016 report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Afghanistan at a press conference in Kabul on February 6, 2017. Rahmat Gul / AP Photo

Kabul // A bullet struck four-year-old Ezadullah in the stomach. Maysam, 12, was wounded in the leg. Both are collateral damage in a war that last year killed or wounded nearly 11,500 Afghan civilians, according to the United Nations.

The statistics have names and faces at Kabul’s Emergency Hospital where, among curtains and blankets, wounded bodies tell a tale of nearly continuous violence, increasing again after nearly four decades of conflict waged against the Afghan population.

“I was on my bike,” said Maysam ruefully about being in the wrong place at the wrong time on January 10. “I was going to collect my school books when I was hit.”

He was one of 78 people wounded when twin Taliban blasts struck near the Afghan parliament in Kabul that also killed at least 30 in a rush-hour attack.

Ezadullah, crying and whimpering in the hospital despite cuddles from his 13-year-old brother, was at home in his village of Logar when a stray bullet hit him on January 22.

Afghanistan’s conflict took a particularly high toll on children last year, with the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) recording 3,512 casualties – 923 deaths and 2,589 injured.

It is a 24 percent increase from 2015 and the highest number of child casualties recorded by Unama in a single year since it began issuing its annual casualty reports in 2009. Unama’s human rights director Danielle Bell said children disproportionately represented in the annual toll.

“I’m not surprised,” said Dejan Panic from the Italian NGO Emergency, which runs the medical facility in the capital.

“The disaster is escalating,” he said. “We had 3,400 admissions last year of which 30 per cent were aged 14 or under.”

In 2016, children comprised 86 per cent of all civilian casualties caused by the detonation of explosive remnants of war, making it the second leading cause of child casualties after ground engagements.

“The IEDs [improvised explosive devices] are becoming more and more powerful,” said Mr Panic, who has spent seven years in Afghanistan.

“In 2010 we saw a lot of open wounds. These days we’re seeing people arriving with both legs blown off and their abdomen severely damaged.

“It’s not strange to have to carry out two or three amputations and five or six specialist surgical procedures at the same time on the same patient: vascular, plastic, abdominal.

“Unfortunately, the Afghans are getting better in the worst possible way,” he said. “These homemade bombs are made from soap, gunpowder, fertilisers made from ammonium nitrate – everything that can easily be found at the bazaar, more powerful than factory-made mines.”

Quoting one of the Afghan medics at the hospital, he said: “Sadly only the dead see the end of war.”

* Agence France-Presse

Published: February 6, 2017 04:00 AM

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