UN urges more action on child rights

All parties in Afghanistan should do more to protect children in armed conflict: Taliban insurgents must stop recruiting child soldiers or using them as suicide bombers, while the government must clamp down on the recruitment and/or sexual exploitation of boys by pro-government militias, the UN and human rights organizations say.


Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the UN Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, and the Afghan foreign minister, Zalmay Rassoul, signed an agreement on 30 January outlawing the recruitment of children in the Afghan armed forces.


“We are not signing an agreement and going away,” said Coomaraswamy, adding that a taskforce comprised of UN agencies, government bodies and NGOs would monitor compliance with the agreement and set out recommendations to the UN Secretary-General.


The UN says the Afghan National Police (ANP) and several armed opposition groups (AOGs), including the Taliban, are using underage boys as foot soldiers. It has urged a government-appointed High Peace Council to include child rights issues in its peace-talks agenda with the Taliban, Coomaraswamy said.


“We recognize that [the Taliban] say in Rule 10 of their own code [of conduct] that children who have no `facial hair’ must not be recruited, but we would prefer it to be under 18s,” she said. No Taliban spokesperson was available to comment on the issue.


Pro-government militias


Afghan human rights organizations have voiced concern about the abuse of children by newly- formed local pro-government militias being hired by US/NATO for counterterrorism and counterinsurgency purposes.


Gen David Petraeus, the commander of all foreign forces in Afghanistan, has defended his policy of militia recruitment as the “mobilization of villages and valleys to defend themselves”.


“We had discussions with Gen Petraues on this issue and he [said that they] are setting in place certain kinds of vetting procedures which will require cross-checking from different actors [and] we hope these processes will work… but we have to keep monitoring the situation,” said Coomaraswamy.


She said under US law the recruitment and use of children for military objectives was illegal.


The sexual exploitation of boys by armed men, known locally as `bacha bazi’, is a grave concern of human rights groups.


The UN says the Afghan government is committed to stopping `bacha bazi’ in the armed forces. “Beyond the military forces all we can do is to push the government to prosecute the perpetrators, but as you know there are problems with the judiciary and the justice system,” said Coomaraswamy.


Scores of children killed every year

Afghan children have died in large numbers in the armed conflict over the past few years. In 2009, of the 2,412 civilian deaths over 340 were children, according to the UN and other human rights organizations.

In the first six months of 2010, according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), 176 children were killed (74 of these in suicide bombings or by improvised explosive devices) and 389 injured. UNAMA has also documented four cases of the extrajudicial killing of children by AOG’s on suspicion they were spying for the government.

Coomaraswamy said there was a widespread consensus in Afghanistan regarding the protection of children in war. “There is a need to galvanize the consensus.”