The Watchlist on Children in Armed Conflict released a report titled “Every Clinic is on the Frontline: The Impact on Children of Attacks on Health Care in Afghanistan” on Monday, March 6. This report evaluates the deleterious impact on children of attacks on health care clinics and personnel between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016.
Afghanistan has been embroiled in armed conflicts since 2001, when the International Security Assistance Force overthrew the Taliban government. The Taliban have continued to attempt to regain control of Afghanistan since, and other armed groups have sought to gain control of Afghanistan as well.
Watchlist reports that “as of November 2016, approximately 57 percent of the country’s 407 districts were under Afghan government control or influence, approximately 10 percent were under the control or influence of Armed Opposition Groups (AOG), and approximately 32 percent remain contested.” In contested areas, civilian casualties and attacks on medical facilities have increased since 2015.
During the period between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2016, over 7,000 civilians were killed and over 15,000 more were injured in hostilities. As many as 1,600 of those killed were children, as were an additional 4,600 of those injured. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that child casualties increased by 24 percent from 2015 to 2016. Many of these injuries and deaths have been among internally displaced persons (IDPs). According to Watchlist, 55 percent of IDPs are children, and as of August 2016 more than 1.4 million people were considered IDPs. These people struggle to obtain food, water, shelter, and health care.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), preventable diseases are a major cause of death in IDP camps run by non-profit organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations. The number of IDPs in Afghanistan will only continue to rise, as last year Pakistan issued a directive that more than 2 million refugees needed to return to Afghanistan by March 31, 2017. In October 2016, the EU arranged to deport Afghan refugees who had not yet received asylum status.
Watchlist’s report states that the ongoing conflict has increased targeting of medical facilities, and as of November 2016 more than 30 percent of the population lacked access to health care. This is often due to attacks that damage or destroy facilities, result in looting of supplies, intimidation of patients and personnel, and detention or killing of personnel. The Associated Press reports that the Taliban and other armed groups carried out more than 240 attacks on medical facilities and personnel in 2015 and 2016. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces committed at least 35 of those attacks.
In response, Watchlist has called upon U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to add Afghanistan’s government forces to a blacklisted network for these attacks which have denied children access to medical care, caused their suffering and death, and denied their human rights.