Afghan children pay for violence

Violent attacks in Afghanistan cause a surge in child civilian casualties and impede access to medical care.

Last updated: 17 Jul 2014 14:12
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In Afghanistan, an average of 40 children were killed or injured every week from January to June [Bethany Matta/Al Jazeera]

Mohammad Sabir was walking out of a clinic in Afghanistan's eastern Parwan province on the morning of June 8 when a massive explosion ripped through the area.

Sabir and his 10-month-old son Mohammad Taous, whom he was holding at the time, died along with four school children who had stopped to see Afghan and NATO forces camped in front of the clinic to investigate a rocket fired into the area earlier that morning.

"I was walking to work at the time," said Dr Abdul Basir, who works at the clinic. "I was around 40 metres away when I heard the explosion and then saw a large cloud of smoke in the sky."

Throughout Afghanistan, attacks leading to the maiming and killing of children have increased this year.

I am looking at my son's leg and seeing that his foot is drying up. Is there any way we can send him outside the country for surgery in order to save his leg? I will find the money.

- Abdul Munir, victim's father

From January to June, an average of 40 children were killed or injured every week, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan's (UNAMA) civilian casualty report. This represents a 34 percent increase in child civilian casualties compared to the same time last year. The total number of overall civilian casualties during this period was 24 percent higher.

On June 14, when Afghanistan's presidential run-off election was held, 20 children were killed and 39 injured in the fighting, the highest number of child casualties in a single day since 2009.

Farshid, 13, and Jamshid, 14, and Farshiad were among those severely wounded in the attack at the medical clinic, which also left at least four NATO soldiers dead.

Jamshid was buying paper for his exam that day at the shop just opposite the clinic's car park when the explosion happened. Farshid's left leg was amputated below the knee, while Farshiad, whose brother was one among the killed, is waiting to undergo an amputation at a hospital in the capital, Kabul.

"I am looking at my son's leg and seeing that his foot is drying up," Farshiad's father, Abdul Munir, told the doctor. "Is there any way we can send him outside the country for surgery in order to save his leg? I will find the money."

While attention has focused recently on Afghanistan's disputed presidential elections, violent attacks have grown more frequent. War-related casualties affecting civilians for the first half of July alone paint a bleak picture of what could follow.

"We are seeing an increase in kids. Throughout the elections, especially the first round, there has been a rise in numbers," said Michela Paschetto, the field officer at Emergency in Kabul, a hospital providing support for victims of war.

Since July 1, several attacks have resulted in a significant number of child casualties, with the assault on the clinic just one of them.

Local reports indicate at least a dozen children have been killed nation-wide and over two dozen wounded - not including those in Wednesday's attack in Paktika province, where 89 people were killed and nearly 40 wounded.

Doctors told Al Jazeera they can not save Farshiad's leg, and that it must be amputated [Bethany Matta l Al Jazeera]

The increase in child civilian casualties is in line with the number of overall civilians being killed, said Alistair Gretarsson, a spokesman for UNICEF.

Although NATO troops plan to withdraw this year, the fighting in Afghanistan is anything but over.

The number of civilian casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) increased across the country for the sixth consecutive year according to the UNAMA report. However, ground fighting has replaced IEDs as the biggest killer.

Clashes have not only maimed and killed children, say health workers, but have also impeded access to health-care for all.

"Non-war related patients delayed their trip to the hospital to avoid risks on the roads like IEDs," said Marcus Bachmann, the field coordinator of the Doctors Without Borders programme in Boost Hospital in Lashkar Gah.

"We are talking about children with severe malnutrition or with infections who were in sepsis or septic shock, whose families had to wait for many days before taking the road to Lashkar Gah," said Bachmann. "They arrive at Boost hospital in the very late stages of their sickness. These children truly are indirect but serious victims of this situation."

Follow Bethany Matta on Twitter: @BethanyMatta


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