The vast majority of respondents said children feel least safe on their way to school, the marketplace or when close to government buildings or checkpoints.
Large proportion of children in Afghanistan suffer from symptoms such as depression and anxiety but lack access to vital support services to help them cope.
As the world marks 30 years since the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20th, children in Afghanistan have known nothing but war with serious implications to their mental health.
A staggering two-thirds of parents surveyed in parts of Afghanistan say their children are scared of explosions, kidnappings or other forms of extreme violence on their journeys to school, a new report by Save the Children finds. A survey[i] of 600 parents and 90 children across four provinces reveals the extent to which children are living in constant fear for their lives and lack support to help overcome their distressing experiences.
In some parts of the country a staggering 95 percent of parents who were interviewed said their children had experienced conflict. In the capital Kabul, it was 65 percent.
Children live in fear of explosives, gun violence and the sound of attack helicopters on their way to and at school, and also when they go to the market, or simply while playing outside with friends. Only 30 percent of children feel safe at school, with girls feeling less safe than boys. Many of the children who were interviewed were too scared to even go outside.
One 14-year-old girl from Sar-e-Pul said:
“When fighting breaks out, no place is safe in our village, but home is still better than outside. We hide in the corners of rooms.”
One 16-year-old girl from Kabul said:
“My 14-year-old brother was near an attack on Darulaman [road], and after the attack, he was always scared and anxious. He would stand up each time there was a sound at home, even the sound of a door closing.”
Other key findings of the report include:
62% of parents said their children had either direct or indirect experience of conflict, of which:
38% of parents reported that children harm themselves due to experiencing conflict, a reaction found to be more prevalent among girls than boys
73% of parents said their children experienced feelings of fear and anxiety because of conflict.
48% of parents said their children experienced prolonged sadness and insomnia because of conflict.
70% of all parents indicated that armed clashes between the Afghan army and armed opposition groups posed the greatest threat to their children’s safety.
A majority of parents stated that their children felt most scared on their way to school (64%) and to the market (55%). 70% of parents said they had no access to counselling services for their children.
Ten-year-old Hemat lives in a small village in Kabul province where he attends an informal school set up by Save the Children because there is no school in his area. He loves going to school but fears the journey to and from class every day.
Ten-year-old Hemat told Save the Children:
“On my way to school, I fear suicide attacks, kidnapping and [I’m afraid] that someone might kill me. There is war in my country. People are killing children; we are not protected. And we don’t have proper schools. I am scared because there is war in our country. Lots of people got killed and there is no safe place for people.”
Onno van Manen, Save the Children’s Afghanistan Country Director, said:
“After 18 years, war has become so normalized in Afghanistan that children barely flinch when they hear a distant explosion or walk past the gruesome aftermath of a bomb blast. All this has become disturbingly routine.
“Thirty years on from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history – why are we still unable to protect innocent children from the ravages of war?
“Our research shows that Afghan children are facing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, being surrounded by extreme violence and with hardly any support services to help them cope. Communities affected by conflict need access to professional child-focused counselling.
“Children must be protected on their way to school and schools must remain off-limits in armed conflicts. Children have a fundamental right to education and must never be forced to drop out of school simply because it’s too dangerous to attend.”
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Conflict continues to pose a serious threat to children’s education.Records from the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) indicate that 1,153 schools have been affected in the on-going conflict since 2013. Recent years have seen a pronounced upward trend in the targeting of schools, with 2018 marking the year with the highest number of schools targeted (377). The rise in attacks on schools in 2018 is largely attributed to the use of schools as polling stations for the parliamentary election. MoE records further reveal that in the last six years, a total of 2,787 cases of school staff casualties have been documented, with the highest number (862) recorded in 2014, followed by 237 and 377 in 2016 and 2018.
Save the Children conducted this research to assess the impact of conflict in aggravating child protection issues in Afghanistan. Findings from the study will inform Save the Children’s programming and advocacy on how to best protect children in/affected by conflict in Afghanistan. Findings from the study will also be leveraged to influence government policies and decisions for the protection of conflict-affected children.
Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976. We currently implement programmes in 16 of 34 provinces, either directly or through partners, reaching more than 700,000 children.
Save the Children works closely with Afghan society on all levels. We work with children, parents, teachers, village councils, religious leaders, ministries and other national and international NGOs. Our way of working close to people on their own terms has enabled us to deliver lasting change to tens of thousands of children in the country.
[i] The research was undertaken over a two-week-long period in April 2019 in selected districts of Kabul, Balkh, Faryab and Sar-e-Pul provinces, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative tools. The qualitative research involved 30 interviews with key informants (6 females; 24 males) including relevant government officials at national and sub-national levels and national and international development partners. In addition, eight Focus Group Discussions – two per province – were held with children in the surveyed communities. The quantitative data was collected through a household survey, involving structured face-to-face interviews with 600 parents (50 percent female) and 90 children, 50 percent of whom were girls. The mean age for girls who participated in focus group discussions was 11 and for boys it was ten.