Fifth Report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan

The fifth report of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Afghanistan is being released against a backdrop of the collapsing security and political situation in Afghanistan in which hundreds of children have been killed or maimed in recent weeks and the civilian population faces chaos, fear, and dread.

The report highlights that an additional 5,770 boys and girls have been killed and maimed in Afghanistan between January 2019 and December 2020. Furthermore, child casualties for the first half of 2021 constituted the highest numbers of children killed and maimed for this period ever recorded by the UN in Afghanistan, a situation compounded in the last few weeks and days.

“Afghanistan continues to be one of the most dangerous places for a child to live and grow. I am appalled by the continuing and rising high levels of violence endured by children in Afghanistan, including those caught up in combat. As the already dramatic situation continues to evolve rapidly and concerning reports of human rights violations keep arising, I call for all abuses to stop, and I urge the Taliban and all other parties to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law, as well as by national commitments and protect the lives and rights of all people, including those of women and girls,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba.

With Afghanistan at a turning point, the United Nations and civil society child protection teams on the ground play a central role in taking concrete steps towards ending and preventing violations, supporting peace efforts that include children, promoting the rights of Afghan children, including hard-won girls’ rights, and providing vital humanitarian help to the millions in need. “I call on all parties to ensure the safety of United Nations and civil society actors on the ground, and to respect their neutrality, impartiality and independence,” she added.

Grave Violations against Children in Afghanistan

The report highlights that during the reporting period, one civilian casualty out of three was a child, each of them a needless tragedy. Responsible for most incidents were armed groups (46%), particularly the Taliban, followed by Government and pro-government forces in an increasing proportion (35%), as well as landmines and explosive remnants of war. “It is urgent that all parties take the necessary actions to minimize harm to children and prioritize their protection in the conduct of hostilities as well as protect schools and hospitals. Such harm is otherwise bound to affect generations to come, when Afghan children have already had their childhood taken away from them. With figures already alarmingly high and the Taliban identified in the report as a major perpetrator of violence against children, the future of children, especially girls in Afghanistan is dark,” said Virginia Gamba.

Overall, the United Nations verified 6,473 grave violations against 6,131 children during the two-year reporting period, with nearly half attributed to the Taliban. Attacks on schools and hospitals were the second most prevalent grave violation with 297 verified incidents. Despite a decrease in attacks on schools, a spike in attacks on hospitals and protected personnel was verified, which is particularly egregious considering the fragile state of Afghanistan’s healthcare system and the burden it has been carrying during the COVID-19 pandemic. A worrisome trend remains the deliberate attack on girls’ schools by the Taliban to prevent them from receiving an education. The Special Representative calls on the Taliban and all other parties to respect the human rights of all Afghans, including the right to an education for girls.

“Today, I call on all parties, especially the Taliban, to prevent recruitment and use, abduction, and the killing and maiming of children and to cease all violations and urgently take concrete measures to protect children, schools, and hospitals, and mitigate child casualties.  I further call on the Taliban to respect the rights of all children, including their right to education, and their right to dream.”

Two hundred and sixty children, all boys, were recruited and used mostly in combat roles, predominantly by the Taliban (88% of total recruitment). “Boys’ vulnerability to recruitment and use has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and will be further exacerbated by the current levels of violence. Economic losses led some to enroll in armed forces and groups as boys bear the social responsibility to meet their family’s needs,” noted the Special Representative.  While progress had been achieved in the stopping of recruitment of children into the Afghan National Police in the last decade, this positive trend now must continue to be applicable to all those that will engage in guaranteeing law and order in the country.

The deprivation of liberty of children for their alleged association with armed groups and armed forces is a concern and a persistent trend; the Special Representative reminds all parties that children associated with parties to conflict must be considered primarily as victims and be protected by international juvenile justice standards.

Furthermore, the Special Representative highlights that bacha bazi has been criminalized in national legislation in the 2018 revised Penal Code. This criminalization must be upheld, and this violation must cease. “Accountability for perpetrators of sexual violence, including bacha bazi is key to sustainably end and prevent this practice as well as providing protection and comprehensive support to survivors” said SRSG Gamba.

True protection for children in Afghanistan can only come through a peaceful resolution of the conflict, in which the specific needs of children are addressed. “I call on all parties, especially the Taliban today, to ensure that child protection issues are prioritized by all actors involved in peace negotiations to sustainably prevent grave violations against children from occurring again and contribute to enhancing the viability of peace,” the Special Representative stressed.

“The ongoing break of peace in Afghanistan will be tragic for children if last years’ trends on violations, as exemplified in the report, are exacerbated now due to the increased violence in Afghanistan. Children are the main casualties of the Afghan conflict when they should be the first to be protected from violence. Violence against children in Afghanistan must stop now,” she added.

Read the full report


Grave violations in Afghanistan between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2020

6,473 grave violations against 6,131 children (4,358 boys, 1,757 girls, 16 sex unknown)

Killing and maiming: 5,770 children (1,635 killed, 4,135 maimed; 4,016 boys, 1,738 girls, 16 sex unknown)

Recruitment and use: 260 boys

Rape and other forms of sexual violence: 31 children (22 boys, 9 girls)

Abductions: 69 children (60 boys, 9 girls)

Attacks on schools and hospitals: 297 incidents (132 schools, 165 hospitals)

Denial of humanitarian access: 46 incidents


For additional information, please contact:

Fabienne Vinet, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

+1-646-537-5066 (mobile) /

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