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Afghanistan War’s Terrible Toll on Children

Attacks in Civilian Areas Kill and Injure Hundreds

A security forces soldier arrives at the site of an explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, July 1, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Rahmat Gul

On July 1, a Taliban truck bomb apparently aimed at a Ministry of Defense facility in Kabul blew out the windows of a nearby school, injuring many civilians, including dozens of children. The attack is a grim reminder of the war in Afghanistan’s horrific toll on children. Since 2016, children have accounted for roughly 30 percent of the estimated 11,000 civilian casualties every year in the conflict.

In February, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, described the high rate of child casualties in Afghanistan as “particularly shocking,” and noted the violence causes both long-term physical and psychological harm to entire families. Of the 3,062 casualties among children in 2018, most were the result of bombings, including ones like this attack that the Taliban said was targeting military “logistics and engineering centers.”

The number of children injured and killed in Afghan Air Force and United States air operations has also continued to rise. Airstrikes in 2018 caused 492 injuries and deaths among children, an 85 percent increase compared to 2017. In one case, on March 23, 2019, a US airstrike in Kunduz killed 10 children.     

Preparations for Afghanistan’s presidential election, scheduled for September 23, also add to the risks faced by children. As in previous elections, government-run schools are being used for voter registration. In the months before the October 2018 parliamentary elections, the Taliban and other insurgent groups threatened and attacked voter registration and polling centers including many schools. Last week, the Afghan Ministry of Education announced that because of the risk, it had “submitted a plan …to find alternatives for polling stations.” However, among the alternative locations proposed were mosques, which similarly put civilians at grave risk. Until the Taliban ends its unlawful attacks on registration and polling centers, the government should ensure that no such facilities are used as official election sites.

And until all parties to Afghanistan’s conflict limit the use of explosive weapons and airstrikes in populated areas, children will continue to pay a high price.

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