UN says children pay the price in Afghan conflict

Between January and March, 210 children were killed and 525 injured, out of a total of 2,181 civilian casualties.

This Afghan boy in hospital in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, was injured when a roadside bomb exploded in Bati Kot district of Nangarhar province on April 27, 2017. Ghulamullah Habibi / EPA
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KABUL // Children accounted for one-third of civilian casualties in Afghanistan’s grinding conflict in the first three months of 2017, and are paying an increasingly high price in the fighting, a UN report said on Thursday.

Between January and March, 210 children were killed — up 17 per cent from the same period last year — and 525 injured, out of a total of 2,181 civilian casualties.

The overall total is slightly down, by four per cent, compared to the same period in 2016.

Among women, 88 deaths were recorded, a figure that jumped 54 per cent from last year, mainly due to aerial bombardments. Air strikes will be an increasing danger to civilians as the Afghan air force begins to carry out its own such raids.

Overall, the report showed 148 deaths and injuries from air strikes in the first quarter of 2017, compared to 29 in the same period last year.

“We are extremely concerned about the increase in the number of casualties among women and children, particularly deaths,” said the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama), which has documented civilian victims of the conflict since 2009.

“The 17 per cent increase in child casualties reflects the failure of parties to the conflict to take adequate precautions to protect civilians, including marking and clearing unexploded ordnance after fighting ends,” said Danielle Bell, head of human rights for Unama.

The main cause of casualties remains fighting on the ground, which was responsible for 35 per cent of the casualties recorded in the UN report.

The number of civilians fleeing the fighting hit a record high last year, said the UN, with 600,000 internally displaced — which, when added to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who returned from Pakistan in 2016, threatens to overwhelm already meagre resources allocated to refugees.

The UN blames 62 per cent of civilian casualties on anti-government elements, mainly the Taliban, who are gearing up for their spring fighting season after an unusually violent winter.

Unexploded mines and ammunition abandoned by fighters remained the second highest cause of civilian casualties, with 19 per cent of casualties caused by unexploded mines and abandoned ammunition. Attacks, meanwhile, caused 17 per cent of civilian casualties.

The province of Kabul had the highest number of casualties thanks to multiple attacks in the capital, followed by provinces where fighting is most sustained — such as Helmand, which is virtually under Taliban control, Kandahar and Uruzgan in the south, and Nangarhar in the east, where ISIL is engaged in a turf war with the Taliban.

“It is civilians, with increasing numbers of women and children, who far too often bear the brunt of the conflict,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN envoy to Afghanistan.

“With the so-called fighting season imminent, I appeal to all parties to take every measure possible to prevent unnecessary and unacceptable harm to Afghan civilians.”

* Agence France-Presse