Children's casualties in Afghan war reach record high in 2016



An Afghan man carries a wounded girl late October 11, 2016, after an attack by gunmen at the Kart-e-Sakhi shrine in Kabul. More than 3,500 children were killed or wounded in the Afghan conflict last year, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). [ROHULLAH AMIN/AFP]

KABUL -- Children are paying a heavy price in the brutal Afghan war that last year killed or wounded nearly 11,500 civilians, according to the United Nations (UN).

They include Ezadullah, 4, with a gunshot wound in the stomach, and Maysam, 12, wounded in the leg by a bomb.

Both children are recovering in Kabul's Emergency Hospital.

"I was on my bike," Maysam said about his January 10 injury. "I was going to collect my school books when I was hit."

He was one of 78 wounded by a twin Taliban bombing near the parliament in Kabul that also killed at least 36.

Ezadullah was hit by a stray bullet at home in Logar Province January 22.

923 children killed

In 2016, 923 children were killed and 2,589 wounded in the conflict, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported Monday (February 6).

The total of 3,512 children's casualties represents a 24% increase from 2015 and the highest recorded in a single year by UNAMA, which began keeping its authoritative casualty report in 2009.

"The disaster is escalating," Dejan Panic of the Italian NGO Emergency, which operates the Kabul Emergency Hospital, told AFP. "We had 3,400 admissions last year of which 30% were aged 14 or under."

Children comprised 86% 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 Panic, who has spent seven years in Afghanistan.

"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," he said.

'A failure to protect the vulnerable'

Adults suffered a heavy toll as well in 2016, with UNAMA recording 11,418 casualties among all ages -- 3,498 deaths and 7,920 injured -- representing a 3% increase over 2015.

The majority of civilian casualties occurred in Kabul Province followed by Helmand, Kandahar, Nangarhar, Uruzgan, Kunduz and Faryab provinces, UNAMA Human Rights Director Danielle Bell said.

UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto said the new figures were "deeply harrowing" and highlight "the gruesome reality of the conflict".

"The continuation of attacks targeting civilians... is illegal, reprehensible and, in most cases, may amount to a war crime," the UNAMA report said. "It is imperative that the perpetrators, whoever they are, be held accountable for such acts."

"Almost 1,000 children were killed from conflict in Afghanistan last year -- that's nearly three per day," Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan Ana Locsin said.

This represents "a very real failure to protect the most vulnerable in Afghan society", she said, calling on all parties to the conflict to protect children at all times.

ISIL a 'deadly component'

The vast majority of casualties last year were attributed to "anti-government elements" such as the Taliban and "Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant" (ISIL).

ISIL committed an alarming tenfold increase in attacks, particularly targeting Shia Muslims, resulting in 899 civilian casualties -- 209 deaths and 690 injured, according to UNAMA.

ISIL's emergence in Afghanistan is an "additional, deadly component" to nearly four decades of conflict, said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

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