Afghan Children Are Neglected Casualties of War

2009
has been the deadliest year for Afghan children since 2001, according to the
Afghanistan Rights Monitor, a Kabul-based human rights group. From January to December 2009, about
1,050 children died in suicide attacks, roadside blats, air strikes and in the
cross-fire between Taliban insurgents and pro-government Afghan and foreign
forces, states ARM.

2009
has been the deadliest year for Afghan children since 2001, according to the
Afghanistan Rights Monitor, a Kabul-based human rights group. From January to December 2009, about
1,050 children died in suicide attacks, roadside blats, air strikes and in the
cross-fire between Taliban insurgents and pro-government Afghan and foreign
forces, states ARM.

Today
in Afghanistan more than one in five
children dies before the age of five, often of a preventable cause. Many
children who survive birth then die because mothers stop breastfeeding them too
soon. Traditionally, the women are not allowed to decide when to start or to
stop breastfeeding or how to give supplementary food. Usually, that decision is
reserved for the elders of the family, generally men.

More
than 60% of all child deaths and disabilities are due to respiratory and
intestinal infections, and of such vaccine preventable deaths as measles.
Widespread malnutrition acutely affects children's growth. It is estimated that
7.5 million children and adults are presently at risk of hunger and
malnutrition.

"Afghanistan has the highest infant
mortality rate in the world," states Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF's country
representative. Other indicators are equally appalling, such as 70% of the
population lacking potable water. Diarrhea in particular kills tens of thousands
of children every year and is, in Afghanistan, a particularly serious
health risk.

Some
cities, such as Jalalabad, the largest city in eastern Afghanistan located at the junction of the
Kabul and Kunar
rivers, are high risk areas for polio. This is due to some high risk factors for
the disease such as massive and continuous population movements from and into
polio infected areas, a large presence of Afghan refugees from
Pakistan and a high population
density. In South Asia in 2000, over 40 percent of the confirmed cases of polio
occurred in Pakistan and
Afghanistan.

To
control the spread of the disease, UNICEF and the Department of Public Health in
Nangarhar have launched the "Women Courtyard" initiative, aimed at giving local
women an understanding of polio and other vaccine-preventable diseases as well
as such related issues such as hygiene and water-borne
illnesses.

Although this is an important initiative some popular
traditions still constitute an impediment to carrying it successfully. One such
tradition is that babies shouldn't be taken to the front door before their
40th day after birth, which prevents many newborns from being
vaccinated.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined nations in
the world. It also has one the highest proportions of disabled people, due in
large part to the landmines placed extensively throughout the country. Children
are landmines' most vulnerable victims, since they can be affected while
playing, going to school, tending animals or scavenging.

To
make matters worse, deadly attacks have targeted schools and impeded access to
critical health care, according to UNICEF. "We have had attacks on villages and
on schools by both anti-government elements as well as by coalition forces and
international troops that have hit civilians," stated recently Daniel Toole,
UNICEF's South Asia Director.

None
of the children growing up today in Afghanistan has known peace in his
lifetime. Children's deteriorated mental health is one of the consequences of a
permanent state of war in the country. A UNICEF-supported study found that the
majority of children under 16 years in Kabul suffer from psychological trauma.

Exposure to traumatic events has been shown to be
associated with serious mental health problems. In this regard, the experience
of five or more traumatic events substantially increases the risk of psychiatric
disorders and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Children in Afghanistan are
exposed not only to violence related to acts of war but also to violence resulting from accidents, beatings
by close relatives or neighbors or seeing close relatives being beaten or
executed. As a study in the Lancet
points out, "In Afghan children's lives, everyday violence matters just as much
as militarized violence in the recollection of traumatic experiences."