Original story by UNAMA

HERAT – Child casualties from Afghanistan’s conflict are running at alarming rates, say religious scholars during a UN-backed seminar on human rights in the western province of Herat. Religious scholars, human rights activists, provincial and district authorities from Herat and surrounding areas gathered to discuss practical measures which communities can undertake to protect children. Participants expressed particular concern over the recruitment of children by armed groups and the high number of unexploded ordinances in the province.

“Children should not be recruited or killed in the conflict,” said Abdul Hali Arab, one of the participants from Kushk-e-Robat Sangi district, urging community members and families to play their part. “Families should do more to protect their children from joining armed groups,” he said.

Thousands of children in Afghanistan have been killed, injured, maimed, and displaced in recent years. Between January and September 2018, as many as 653 children were killed and 1,483 injured in the conflict according to UNAMA’s latest Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, accounting for 26 per cent of the total civilian casualties.

For Afghanistan’s children, the impact of the conflict have been wide-reaching and devastating, many have dropped out of school and face a bleak future. Thousands have been displaced, live in poverty and are cut off from accessing essential services including health and education.

Herat has in recent years experienced growing insurgent activities, consequently leaving many children susceptible to abduction, abuse, extremism and forced recruitment.

In 2011, the Afghan government and the UN signed a Joint Action Plan for the Prevention of Underage Recruitment. In 2014, the government’s Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Children and Armed Conflict endorsed a 15-point roadmap toward compliance with the action plan, drafted jointly by the Afghan Government and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF and UNAMA.

In 2015, the Government enacted a law criminalizing the recruitment and use of children in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. The revised Penal Code, which entered into force in February 2018, criminalizes the recruitment and use of children in military units and bacha bazi, a harmful practice whereby boys are exploited by powerful men for entertainment, particularly dancing and sexual activities.

In making their recommendations, participants drew attention to community-level actions such as teaching and preventing children from contact with unexploded ordinance. According to UNAMA’s latest report, children comprised 90 per cent of civilian casualties from explosive remnants of war.

“We need to teach our children and communities to identify and report unexplored ordinances and unknown objects,” said Abdul Ghani Jamshidi, an official of the Department of Haj and Religious.

Organized by the Department of Haj and Religious, UNAMA’s regional office in Herat supported the event as part of a country-wide outreach initiative aimed at creating platforms for local communities to engage in dialogue on critical issues.