Forty years of war, recurrent natural disasters, increasing poverty and COVID-19 are devastating the people of Afghanistan. Conflict continues to drive extreme physical and psychological harm, and is forcibly displacing hundreds of thousands of people every year. Civilian casualties remain staggeringly high, with no sign of a lull in fighting and women and children continue to be disproportionately impacted. The onset of COVID-19 has had catastrophic consequences for people’s health, incomes and levels of debt. Hunger and malnutrition have spiked amid the ongoing conflict and economic downturn, with food insecurity now on par with the 2018-2019 drought, leaving Afghanistan with the second highest number of people in emergency food insecurity in the world – 5.5 million people.
2021 Response Plan in Numbers
Children comprise more than half (53 per cent) of the IDP, returnee and other population groups affected by the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. For the fifth year in a row, Afghanistan is listed as the deadliest conflict for children. Grave child rights violations are a significant concern, with children at risk of being killed and injured, recruited into armed groups, detained, abducted and exposed to sexual violence. From July 2019 to June 2020, the UN verified 1,497 such violations against children, highlighting persistent trends of violence. This included 1,164 verified incidents of killing and maiming, 155 attacks on schools in 16 provinces, and 326 verified incidents of child recruitment into armed forces and groups across 31 provinces of Afghanistan. 2020 saw a three-fold increase in cases of recruitment and use of children by armed forces as compared to 2019. Child recruitment cases were most prominent in the country’s northern and north-eastern areas and are likely to remain an under-estimation. Protection partners have seen rising trends of families being either requested, threatened or coerced to join armed fighting. These patterns have been witnessed in both government and non-government-controlled areas and among criminal networks. In the first half of 2020, children made up more than half of total civilian mine casualties, including those caused by improvised devices and ERW (313 out of 579 casualties).
The socio-economic pandemic has fuelled harmful coping mechanisms such as child labour, early marriage and child recruitment, while simultaneously straining the capacities of families and communities to protect children. The provinces of highest prevalence of child labour are Farah (49 per cent) and Hilmand (33 per cent). The highest percentage of child marriage was reported in Faryab (35 per cent), Paktya (25 per cent), and Kunduz (22 per cent) although these figures are not likely to represent the full scale of this situation. According to the 2020 WoA Assessment, 59 per cent of key informants in hard-to-reach areas across 120 districts said they know at least one girl under the age of 16 that was married off in the preceding three months. The same assessment further showed that 19 per cent of informants reported family separation by marriage (with the child being taken away from their family to be married), with the highest figures being reported by refugee (41 per cent) and IDP households (30 per cent). The most common reason for children to leave their families is to seek better job opportunities. Out of the 19 per cent of the households who reported that children are not living in the home, 65 per cent report that the child migrated out of the country to seek employment. Assessments indicate that during situations of hostilities and displacement, children with disabilities are at heightened risk of separation from their families, violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. Many struggle with marginalisation, stigma and discrimination, while displacement impedes dignified access to basic services. Child Protection assessments show that all the aforementioned child protection-related risks and vulnerabilities have been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The aim of the multi-year protection strategy is to ensure the immediate needs of affected people are addressed and to analyse and support in addressing the root causes of medium- to long-term protection needs and vulnerabilities. In parallel to tackling structural issues affecting the physical and mental wellbeing of vulnerable people, the strategy of the Protection Cluster focuses on building protection resilience by creating stronger synergies and opportunities for collaboration with development partners so that their response reduces underlying vulnerabilities.
The Child Protection objectives for 2021 is to provide age-and gender-sensitive child protection services to vulnerable and at-risk girls and boys, to ensure their protection against life-threatening risks including abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation.