AFGHANISTAN: 8 in 10 child deaths from war caused by explosive weapons over two-year period

Thursday 16 May 2019

Children are twice as likely to be killed by rockets, grenades and mortars than adults; new analysis by Save the Children shows.

KABUL, May 16 - Explosive weapons were the cause of death in 84 per cent of child conflict fatalities in 2016 and 2017 – the only years for which the causes of death is publicly available. In contrast, 56 per cent of civilian adult deaths were caused by explosive weapons over the same periodi. Compared with adult casualties, children were twice as likely to be killed by mortars, rockets and grenadesii.

As Save the Children launches a new campaign – Stop the War on Children – we are calling on the Afghan government and all armed opposition groups in Afghanistan to protect children in conflict. 

New analysis by Save the Children shows how children are uniquely and horrifically injured and impacted by explosive weapons when compared to adults. Furthermore, it finds that children exposed to explosive weapons often continue to present symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and agoraphobiaiii which stay with them for many years following exposure

A study in 2017 by Imperial College London found that children injured by explosive weapons are far more likely than adults to suffer penetrating injuries to the head, severe burns and complex injuries which require multiple surgeries.

Our analysis comes from UN data as well as from a new review of child injury data, commissioned by the Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership (PBIP), of which Save the Children is a co-convenor.

Afghanistan is the most dangerous conflict-affected country for children. Nearly a third of all casualties in 2017 and 2018 were children. According to the UN, last year was the deadliest for children on record, with 927 recorded fatalities, most of them caused by explosive weapons. 

As a practical response, the Partnership has today launched a new ground-breaking field handbook to help doctors and surgeons working with children injured by explosive weapons. The manual is a world-first guide to the unique procedures needed to keep children alive, and help them recover fully, following catastrophic injuries from explosive weapons. It also includes child-specific guidance in reducing the mental trauma a child may face during injury and treatment. The guide is currently being road-tested in Syria with the expectation that it will be rolled out in Afghanistan in the coming year, translated into Pashto and Dari languages.

Major General (Ret) Michael von Bertele, former Director General of British Army Medical Services and member of the Paediatric Blast Injury Partnership (PBIP), said:

“We know children’s bodies are different. They aren’t just small adults. And when children suffer severe injuries to their legs and arms, it takes highly specialised knowledge to know where to amputate so that you can factor in future growth. Without that, children are left with even worse disabilities, and often intractable pain for life."

Dr Aman, Paediatrician working in Kabul’s Indira Gandhi Centre for Child Health, said:

 “We face difficult kinds of injuries. All of them are not the same, some for example are from burning, amputation internal injuries, head injuries, so it is difficult, we face a lot of difficulties. The main risk that belongs to the child is his psychological, his anatomy, his immune system; they are different from the adults - because they are most at risk and vulnerable and also their immunity is less than adults so when they face a small injury, they have large damage physically and also mentally.”

Onno van Manen, Save the Children’s Afghanistan Country Director, said:

“International law makes clear that everyone has a responsibility to make sure children are protected in war. Yet explosive weapons continue to kill, maim and terrorise thousands of Afghan children every year. Every warring party in Afghanistan –

from armed groups to the government and international military forces – must abide by this important moral principle to protect children. They are the future of this great country and the best way of protecting them is to stop using weapons in places that should be safe, like schools and hospitals.”

 “Save the Children calls on the Afghan government, donors, and national and international organizations to protect children affected by conflict in Afghanistan. Specifically, Save the Children recommends:

• The Afghan government and armed opposition groups ensure the children are not affected in explosions and attacks;

• The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to establish and resource support mechanisms for injured children and the families of children lost in attacks, both financially and through developing the ministries technical capacity to offer relevant assistance to such families to ensure a long term commitment to their support;

• The government and international community prioritize the implementation of the recently published Law on Protection of Child Rights to protect those affected by conflict in Afghanistan;

• Donors bridge the over 80% budget gap in Humanitarian Response Plan 2019 to increase humanitarian services for children, especially in conflict areas;

• The international community holds all the perpetrators of child rights violence to account. 


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