Children of War
When 9-year-old Eimal stepped out of his home in the Panjshir Valley in northeastern Afghanistan, he had no way of knowing that his life was about to change.
He was playing in a field near his home when he stumbled upon what looked to him like a strange toy. But when he reached with his hands to pick it up there was a loud bang and Eimal was thrown several meters (yards) across the field, blood seemingly everywhere.
Eimal, who like many Afghans uses only one name, had just picked up one of millions of unexploded land mines scattered all across war-torn Afghanistan — a legacy of more than 40 years of war.
Afghanistan has the unenviable reputation of being among the countries with the most unexploded land mines and other ordnance. According to the United Nations, there are 150 land-mine casualties a month in Afghanistan. Eight of every 10 casualties is a child who inadvertently picks up an unexploded ordnance. Some are even made to resemble toys.
Eimal’s father, Ismatullah, rushed his son to a local hospital, which was able to provide only basic first aid. Eimal was quickly transferred to the Italian-run Emergency Surgical Center for Civilian War Victims in the Afghan capital of Kabul.
The center treats Afghanistan’s many war wounded. An international organization, it was founded in 1994 and provides free, high-quality health care to victims of war, whether they be wounded by land mines or caught in the brutal fighting between the country’s warring sides. They also train local medical staff.
Eimal lost his right eye and several fingers on his small hands. He shares his hospital ward with other child victims. Masiullah, a teenager from Wardak province, lost both his legs in a U.S. airstrike in October this year.
A new report by the U.N. children’s agency, released in 2019, says that in the first nine months of this year, nine children were killed or maimed every day as a result of war — an 11% increase from the same period in 2018. UNICEF blames the increase on a “surge in suicide bomb attacks and ground” fighting.
“Even by Afghanistan’s grim standards, 2019 has been particularly deadly for children,” said UNICEF’s Executive Director Henrietta Fore. “Children, their families and communities suffer the horrific consequences of conflict each and every day.”
At the International Committee of the Red Cross’ rehabilitation center in Kabul, 13-year-old Abdullah is still getting used to his prosthesis. He lost his left leg when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Maymana in northwestern Afghanistan. Abdullah comes regularly to the center to practice walking with the help of a prosthesis. He is one of 46,194 amputees registered with the ICRC in Afghanistan.
Since the ICRC began its rehabilitation program in Afghanistan in 1988, more than 177,000 people, including more than 46,000 amputees, have been treated at its centers across the country. Among the amputees registered, 77% were landmine victims and 70% of those were civilians.
The harm inflicted by more than four decades of war has been cumulative.
In 2018 Afghanistan was the world’s most lethal warzone, said the UNICEF report.
Between 2009 and 2018, nearly 6,500 children were killed and almost 15,000 others injured, helping make Afghanistan the world’s most lethal warzone in 2018.