The United Nations says it continues to be concerned by the high number of children killed and maimed by all parties in the Afghan conflict -- at least 2,619 last year.
In its annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, published on June 22, the UN said it had verified the killing of 760 Afghan children and maiming of 1,859 others in 2020.
It said 1,098 of these children were killed or wounded by the Taliban and other armed groups, and 962 other children by government or pro-government forces.
As many as 196 boys were recruited or used by the sides in the conflict, mainly by the Taliban, which used 172 children.
“Children were used in combat, including in attacks with improvised explosive devices, intelligence gathering, staffing checkpoints, and subjected to sexual violence,” the report said, adding that nine boys were killed and injured in combat.
Sexual violence affecting 13 children, including nine boys and four girls, was attributed to government and pro-government forces, as well as the Taliban.
As of December 31, 2020, 164 boys and one girl were detained on national-security-related charges in juvenile rehabilitation centers for periods up to 3 1/2 years.
In addition, 318 mainly non-Afghan children were in prison with their mothers who were detained for their alleged or actual links with militant groups.
Overall, the UN said it had verified more than 3,000 “grave violations” against 2,863 Afghan children, including 2,020 boys.
According to the report, violations were committed last year against 19,379 children in 21 conflicts across the world. The most violations were perpetrated in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. It said that 8,521 children were used as soldiers, while another 2,674 children were killed and 5,748 injured in various conflicts.
In the report, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the Afghan government’s “continued progress in implementing the 2011 action plan and the 2014 road map” to end and prevent child recruitment and use.
That included the launch of the child protection policy by the Interior Ministry in November 2020, which includes provisions on the recruitment of children and their screening in police recruitment centers. A total of 187 child applicants were prevented from enrolling last year as a result.
Guterres called on the Afghan government to make greater efforts to implement legal and policy reforms related to children detained on national-security-related charges.
He also urged the government to prioritize accountability for perpetrators of violations against children and assistance for survivors and their families.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the Afghan government to release the hundreds of children currently detained for alleged association with armed insurgent groups and work with the United Nations and donors to establish programs to reintegrate them into society.
In a report prepared for a UN Security Council session on Afghanistan on June 22, the New York-based watchdog found that children are often held in military facilities in violation of Afghan law, and often sign confessions and other documents involuntarily that they do not understand.
They may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison on vaguely worded terrorism charges, HRW said, adding that many children in custody are detained solely because of their parents’ alleged involvement with insurgent groups.
“Detaining and torturing children who have already been victimized by armed insurgent groups is inhumane and counterproductive,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for HRW.