NEW YORK: A surge in recruitment of child soldiers, the maiming and killing of children, child detention and a serious humanitarian situation are all posing major threats to children in Afghanistan, according to the United Nations envoy on children and armed conflict who recently returned from a five-day visit to the country. “The deteriorating security situation in the country was of concern to everybody everywhere. They are very worried about the kind of insecurity and lawlessness that is now prevailing,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters in New York.
Among the child rights violations Coomaraswamy investigated during her visit, was the killing and maiming of children during military operations by the Taliban and anti-government combatants, as well as by international forces in Afghanistan. The envoy held discussions with ISAF [the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] and OEF [the United State Operation Enduring Freedom] commanders and said she had received updated guidelines on new procedures to limit “collateral damage” – civilians killed in military raids.
“However, I must say even the religious leaders who were sympathetic to the government complained bitterly about this type of collateral damage,” she added.“There is therefore a need for the international forces to take these complaints seriously, to put in place measures to prevent excesses, to have prompt investigations and, where necessary, pay compensation.”
Coomaraswamy also stressed that she was concerned about children being detained after military operations by Afghan and international forces, and that there was a lack of guidelines and operating procedures on the issue. On the issue of child soldiers, Coomaraswamy said that she had received information from Afghan sources that there had been a surge in under-age recruitment by the Taliban and other anti-government forces in the last few months, especially from Pakistan.
She noted that the Taliban had recognized that the recruitment of children was illegal through their own rule that mujahadeen fighters were not allowed to take young boys with no facial hair onto the battle field.
“However, it seems that in the last few months this rule is not being obeyed and that children are being used even as suicide bombers,” she added, saying that she had three verified cases of failed suicide attempts by children. Condemning attacks on schools, Coomaraswamy said such attacks “kill children who are completely innocent of the politics around them” and urged community and tribal leaders to unite to protect their schools, as well as to devise a security plan that did not militarize schools or endanger children.
Citing a serious humanitarian problem in many of the conflict areas in Afghanistan, the envoy urged all parties to give access to relief organizations and praised the proposal by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to create “days of tranquillity” in the country when military operations would be suspended to allow immunization drives to take place. She noted that a previous polio vaccination campaign had been a success.
“We hope the children then can be a bridge for the beginning of peace in Afghanistan,” she said. One of the major objectives of Coomaraswamy’s visit was to set in place the monitoring and reporting process called for by the Security Council to assess six grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict. The monitoring and reporting mechanism – which sets up a task force at the country level – 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.-SANA