KABUL: Nowhere in the world are children suffering as much as in Afghanistan, a top UN official has said. Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters in Kabul on 3 July that during her six-day visit to Afghanistan she had found that “it takes an Afghan child a very long time to smile.” The conflict had killed, maimed and affected an increasing number of children, she said.
Coomaraswamy did not give any specific figures but said the number of children exploited by anti-government forces for military purposes had increased over the past few months. Children had also been used as “suicide attackers” by the Taliban, she said. “This is a terrible situation… we urge all parties to the conflict, especially anti-government forces, to take measures to prevent the use of children in conflict.”
Children were also being recruited into the Afghan National Police and pro-government militias, where they were vulnerable to sexual abuse, Coomaraswamy said.
“This is illegal and should be eradicated.” According to the UN, children have been detained by all the warring parties, but no one knows exactly how many children are being held in detention centers – even those run by US forces and the government.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said children were often at even greater risk than those directly involved in the conflict. “Children are easy targets… They are especially vulnerable to two insurgent techniques utilised in Iraq and then in Afghanistan: suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices, also called roadside bombs,” the UNICEF Child Alert Report 2007 stated.
Afghan children have also been killed, wounded, displaced and traumatized by the “intensive use of air power” by international forces, the report said. Over six million students are now enrolled at schools, with almost 40 percent of them girls, according to the Ministry of Education. However, an increasing number of attacks on schools by gunmen associated with Taliban insurgents and other anti-government elements have seriously threatened educational progress. There have been 311 confirmed attacks on schools in the past 18 months, resulting in 84 deaths and 115 injuries (to schoolchildren, teachers and other school employees). Hundreds of schools in insecure areas have had to close, UNICEF reported.-SANA