November 23, 2008 / 6:42 PM / 11 years ago

Violence against Afghan children rising: U.N

KABUL (Reuters) - Violations of children’s rights are increasing in Afghanistan with more attacks against schools, more children killed and more evidence of child sexual abuse, the United Nations said on Sunday.

The report was conducted using a combination of data from agencies working across Afghanistan and anecdotal reports or allegations of violations against children.

“The report really shows how difficult the situation is and to some degree it is worsening,” Hilde F. Johnson, deputy executive director of the UNICEF agency, told Reuters.

“This goes for several of the violations in particular attacks against schools and health centers, killing and maiming and grave sexual violence and to some degree recruitment of children (to armed groups),” Johnson said.

The report, produced by UNICEF for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon mentioned the case of a child, aged around 12, who was used as a suicide bomber by the Taliban on May 16, 2008.

UNICEF also said Western military operations were killing more children, and pointed to an air strike in July in which 30 of the 47 civilians killed were children.

CHILD SOLDIERS

The report contained documented cases of Afghan security forces recruiting children aged between 15 and 17, although Johnson said children were rarely abducted and forced into working as soldiers and most were driven to join up by poverty.

“Where children are orphaned or children are in a situation where they don’t have food or they are very poor and don’t have much alternative, then it’s very easy to be recruited,” Johnson said, ahead of a meeting with Afghanistan’s minister for the interior when she expected to discuss the report’s findings.

The Afghan government was involved in the preparations for the report and Johnson said cooperation was good and pointed to the need to also address cultural perceptions of children in Afghanistan.

By tradition in Afghanistan, children over the age of 15 are seen as adults, whereas under international law they are still children until the age of 18, she said.

One other major concern for UNICEF is sexual abuse against children, particularly boys, a controversial and taboo subject in Afghanistan, where the tradition of “bacha bazi,” which literally means child play, is an age-old practice of young boys being kept as sex slaves by wealthy and powerful men.

In July 2008, the U.N.’s special representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy said Afghanistan had to do more to end “bacha bazi.”

Johnson was confident that such issues were gradually being talked about openly in Afghanistan and public debates were happening to address a subject which the report said was significantly under-reported.

Editing by Peter Millership

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