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 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 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 scared to even go outside.
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 percent of parents said their children experienced feelings of fear and anxiety because of conflict.
- 48 percent of parents said their children experienced prolonged sadness and insomnia because of conflict.
- 70 percent 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 percent) and to the market (55 percent).70 percent 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. He 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. Lots of people got killed and there is no safe place for people.”
Save the Children Australia Director of International Programs, Mat Tinkler said:
“Our report provides startling insight into the harrowing, prolonged effects of war on Afghan children. It reveals large numbers of children suffer toxic stress and anxiety, are afraid of being attacked when they travel to and from school and are self-harming as a coping mechanism because of the conflict.
“War takes a huge emotional toll on children, and this cannot be understated in a place like Afghanistan which is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child.
“Australia can be proud of the support it has provided to Afghanistan, including as a donor to funds like Education Cannot Wait, which prioritises access to education for children in emergency settings.
“But amidst a declining aid budget, it’s increasingly hard for Australia to slice the aid pie in a way that allows us to make a meaningful contribution to funds like Education Cannot Wait. For children in Afghanistan, access to education can be life changing and we urge Australia to do all in its power to renew its aid commitment to Afghanistan as a priority.”
Save the Children’s Country Director in Afghanistan, Onno van Manen, 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.
“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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*Name changed to protect identity