Leila Zerrougui has expressed deep concern about the fragile security situation in Afghanistan as she highlights that the latest report of the UN Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the country shows the suffering of children has “increased over time.”

The 18-page report, released today, says 2,302 children were killed, and 5,047 injured throughout the reporting period from 1 September 2010 to 31 December 2014.

Of that toll, 2,502 children were killed or injured in 2014 alone – making that year the worst for child casualties of any in Afghanistan since the monitoring began in July 2007.

“These tragically high casualty numbers show that children are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and unfortunately this trend continues with the deterioration of the security environment into 2015,” Ms. Zerrougui, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said in a press release on the report.

While not losing sight of the high price being paid by children caught in conflict in Afghanistan, SRSG Zerrougui welcomed the report’s observation that the Afghan Government and its National Security Forces had made “commendable progress” towards ending and preventing the recruitment and use of children.

The Government has agreed to an Action Plan with the United Nations for achieving the goal, and has also endorsed a road map “to further expedite the implementation process,” the report says.

“I look forward to working with the Government of Afghanistan even more intensively in the months ahead as we move towards fully implementing the country’s Action Plan for ending recruitment and use of children,” SRSG Zerrougui said.

Almost half of the 2,502 children killed or injured in 2014 were casualties of ground engagements between Government and international forces on the one hand, and the Taliban and other armed groups on the other.

A further 664 resulted from IED attacks by armed groups, including the Taliban and the Haqqani Network. The report also highlights the use of children as suicide bombers by armed groups.

“The killing and maiming of children from the indiscriminate use of IEDs in populated areas, and the use of children as suicide bombers, can only be condemned as flagrant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” SRSG Zerrougui said, reflecting the report’s recommendation calling for an immediate end to these and other violations by the armed groups.

During the entire reporting period, the Afghan Government faced mounting challenges amid what the report describes as “increased military activity and the deterioration in security” compared to the situation during the previous 1 September 2008 to 31 August 2010 reporting period.

The report itself expresses deep concern about the number of children killed and maimed, particularly during ground engagements, and says their “suffering has increased over time” as it calls on all parties to “continue to review tactics and procedures” to avoid civilian casualties.

SRSG Zerrougui also highlighted the report’s expression of serious concern for what it calls “widespread impunity for grave violations against children by Government security forces, including against children in detention for alleged association with armed groups.”

“These children are first and foremost victims, and they should be treated as such,” SRSG Zerrougui said, noting the report calls upon the Government to “urgently address this issue.”

The Government’s Action Plan on ending recruitment and use of children aims to meet the goal of the wider “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign – launched last year by SRSG Zerrougui’s Office and Unicef — to end the practice by Government forces by 2016.

The report notes that a Government decree criminalizing underage recruitment by the Afghan National Security Forces has been in force since February 2015, and “lies at the centre of all efforts to ensure accountability and prevent the recruitment and use of children by both the Government and armed group actors.”

It also highlights that the High Peace Council, presidentially appointed in 2010 to negotiate with insurgency elements, pushed throughout the reporting period for all parties to the conflict to prioritize the protection of children and to halt underage recruitment.

To help Afghanistan meet the goals of its Action Plan, the report calls for donor support, including sustainable funding for the “timely and effective” implementation of the road map steps.

Click here for infograph presenting key statistics drawn from the report.