A new UN report highlights how access to healthcare and education in Afghanistan, particularly for children, is being increasingly compromised by violence, threats, intimidation and abuse of facilities. The number of verified incidents over the last three years (2013-2015) in particular shows an increase in recorded incidents of threats and intimidation, as well as a continued considerable number of deaths, injuries and abductions. The violations, to a differing extent carried out by all parties to the conflict, directly harmed or impacted health and education personnel, reduced the availability of healthcare and limited children’s access to education and medical facilities. AAN highlights the UN report’s main findings.Map showing the distribution of attacks on schools across Afghanistan from the new UN report "Education and Healthcare at risk: Key trends and incidents affecting children’s access to healthcare and education in Afghanistan”, released on 18 April 2016
The year 2015 was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan yet. And children were particularly hard hit: one in four documented casualties was a child. (1) UNAMA’s data on civilian casualties for the first quarter of 2016, released on 17 April 2016, shows a continued increase in the numbers of civilian casualties, including an increase in child casualties:
The Mission has documented a five per cent increase in women casualties (195 women casualties – 52 deaths and 143 injured) and a 29 per cent increase in child casualties (610 children casualties – 161 deaths and 449 injured) compared to the first three months of 2015. Ground engagements caused the highest number of women casualties, followed by suicide and complex attacks, and IEDs. For children, ground engagements killed and maimed the most, followed by unexploded ordinance and IEDs. (1)
A new UN report now shows how children are additionally affected by the on-going conflict through incidents that affect their access to health care and education across Afghanistan.
The report, which is based on data collected over the last three years (from 1 January 2013 to 31 December 2015) by the Human Rights Unit of UNAMA and UNICEF focuses on conflict-related attacks and incidents on education and health care facilities. It paints a grim picture of post-transition Afghanistan, showing how the number of incidents involving education and health care facilities and providers sharply increased in the last three years. (2) The conflict-related incidents had the effect that children were either denied access to education or missed their immunisations due to limited access to the health facilities and providers in 2015. Hospitals were damaged or destroyed by targeted attacks and crossfire, and many schools and health facilities were closed – and often remained closed – due to insecurity, threats or military use.
Nicholas Haysom, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan called the findings of the report “deeply troubling” and emphasised that it was “simply unacceptable for teachers, doctors and nurses to be subjected to violence or threats, and for schools and medical facilities to be misused or attacked.”
Infographic from UNAMA Report published on 18 April 2016
Schools under attack
Afghanistan has made significant progress in terms of primary and secondary education enrolments rates since 2001. In 2014 more than 8 million pupils were reported to be enrolled in schools, 39 per cent of them girls. The average annual growth rate, from 2001 to 2012, was said to have been nine per cent (according to a 2015 Ministry of Education review report). The conflict has, however, had a dampening effect in terms of access to education. As noted by the Education Ministry in the same report: “insecurity often include[s] attacks on schools resulting in closure of schools for long periods of time, shortage[s] result in long walking distance to schools, – all these factors negatively affect enrollment and retention rates and ultimately students’ learning.”
In 2015, the UN documented 132 conflict-related incidents affecting education facilities and education personnel (as compared to 63 incidents in 2013 and 71 in 2014). Of the 132 incidents affecting access to education, the UN report documented the highest number of cases (38) in the eastern region (23 in Nangarhar province, nine in Kunar, five in Laghman and one in Nuristan). An additional 27 incidents were recorded in the western region (12 in Farah province, seven in Herat, six in Ghor and two in Badghis), and 26 incidents in the northeastern region (16 in Kunduz province, seven in Badakhshan and three in Baghlan).
According to the Ministry of Education, as reported by AP recently 615 schools in the country’s 11 most volatile provinces had to close because of violence in 2015. For example, in Helmand alone as reported by Pajhwok more than 50 schools had been closed in the provincial capital and three nearby districts of southern Helmand province, as of November 2015, due to clashes between security forces and insurgents. (See also previous AAN reporting on the situation in Helmand here and here). The UN report, which only counted conflict-related incidents that constituted a violation of applicable national and international laws and that could be verified by multiple sources, (3) had the following figures:
More than 369 schools closed partially or completely, affecting at least 139,048 students (65,057 boys and 73,991 girls) and 600 teachers.
According to the report, 75 educational personnel or students were killed, injured or abducted during 2015 (11 deaths, 15 injured, 49 abducted); all but one of the cases were perpetrated by anti-government elements. There were 29 direct attacks on schools (a decrease from 2014 and 2013 when respectively 34 and 30 direct attacks were recorded).
In cases where schools were used for military purposes (a total of 35 incidents), the government forces were at fault in two-thirds of the cases:
In 2015, 35 schools (compared to 12 schools in 2014 and ten schools in 2013) were used for military purposes for a cumulative total of 1,311 days, the majority (24) by Pro-Government Forces. Military use of schools varied from a few days to months, and impeded access to education for at least 8,905 students (5,614 boys and 3,291 girls). Anti- Government Elements used at least 11 schools in Nangarhar, Nuristan, Logar and Kunduz provinces for military purposes.
The highest number of incidents of schools being used for military purposes during 2015 was documented in Kunduz province, where 15 schools were used by the pro- government forces, affecting 6,680 students (3,980 boys and 2,700 girls).
Girls most affected
The UN report documented 19 incidents in 2015 where anti-government elements directly
or indirectly limited girls’ access to education, including direct restrictions such as: complete bans on education for girls, restrictions on girls’ attendance beyond 4th or 6th grade, or explicit prohibitions on girls attending school without a female teacher. The 19 incidents also included “other forms of violence, which impeded girls’ access to education such as: threats and intimidations, two school-burnings, two improvised explosive device attacks
and one incident of abduction.”
Of the 14 recorded incidents
f threats and intimidation against teachers and students, nine incidents led to the closure or partial closure of a total of 213 schools (including 94 mixed schools that were closed to girls only), affecting at least 50,683 girls. In Shindand district of Herat province alone, between June and December 2015, threats and intimidation carried out by anti-government elements led to the closure of five girl schools and the suspension of female classes in 94 mixed schools, affecting at least 27,103 girls.
The report notes that “The increase in attacks impacting education attributed to the Taliban – 82 incidents compared to 29 in 2014 – contradicts a decree issued by Mullah Mohammad Omar in 2011 instructing his followers not to attack schools or intimidate school children,” as well as a 2012 declaration by the Taliban that they were not against the education of girls.” (For more details on the Taleban’s education policies see these two AAN reports, here and here).
Increased number of incidents on health care
As reported earlier by AAN in March 2016, health workers have been coming under increasing pressure from all sides in the war. This is confirmed by the newly released UN report.
The UN report documents an increase in the number of incidents affecting access to health care, with 125 incidents reported in 2015, compared to 59 in 2014 and 33 in 2013. In 2015 20 health workers were reported killed, 43 injured and 66 abducted. Overall, anti-government elements perpetrated 109 of all verified cases affecting access to health services in 2015 (the UN report attributes 15 incidents to pro-government forces and one remains unknown).
Similar to the findings in the education sector, threats and intimidation of health personnel constituted the majority of the cases – with 64 incidents making up 52 per cent of all verified cases. Approximately one third of all health-related incidents took place in the eastern region which experienced 40 incidents: 23 in Nangarhar, ten in Kunar, six in Laghman and one in Nuristan (all attributed to Anti-Government Elements). In the northeast, UN documented 21 incidents, attributing eight incidents to Pro-Government Forces (five in Kunduz and three in Badakhshan) and 13 incidents to Anti-Government Elements (nine in Kunduz and four in Badakhshan). Additionally, 18 incidents were documented in the northern region, all perpetrated by Anti-Government Elements (seven in Balkh, three in Faryab, three in Samangan, three in Sar-e Pul and two in Jawzjan).
Of the ten recorded cases where medical facilities were used for military purposes, the perpetrators were anti-government elements in 80 per cent of the cases (8 incidents); in the remaining two cases pro-government forces used the facilities for the military purposes.
23 in 2014 and 15 incidents in 2013, the UN documented 64 incidents of threats and intimidation in 2015. Threats and intimidation targeting health personnel led to the closure of at least 19 clinics, including 12
in the eastern region (11 in Nangarhar, all attributed to ISIL-Khorasan Province and one in Kunar attributed to anti-government elements).
The violence also affected the vaccination campaigns:
A total of 89,873 children could not be vaccinated during the December 2015 Sub-National Immunization days. These children are mostly from Kunar (12,638), Nangarhar (59,650) and Helmand (13,493) provinces.
UN calls for greater responsibility
The UN called for the immediate cessation of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks that target or affect civilians and civilian objects, including schools and hospitals, and calls on all parties to the conflict to ensure that perpetrators of attacks on education and health institutions, personnel and beneficiaries are held accountable. Such attacks – except in highly exceptional cases – amount to violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law (or more details on the rules of war, see here).
(1) In total the UN report documented 1,943 civilian casualties (600 deaths and 1,343 injured) in the period between 1 January and 31 March 2016. This represented a 13 per cent decrease in deaths and an 11 per cent increase in injuries, compared to the same period in 2015.
(2) The UN report notes that due to on going insecurity and access constraints “figures provided may underrepresent the number of incidents attributed to the parties to the conflict and the severity of the impact of conflict on children.” The methodology used for monitoring and verifying the incidents is the same as used for the regular reports by UNAMA on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, with all reported incidents having been verified by three sources.
(3) The UN counted only those cases that constituted a violation of the applicable international humanitarian law, international human rights law, international criminal law and national legislation. In particular, UN applied the international legal framework that Afghanistan is a party to, such as the four 1949 Geneva protocols and the second protocol of 1977, which relates to the protection of civilians in a non-international armed conflict. Under international humanitarian law, attacks against civilians and civilian objects, including schools and hospitals, are generally prohibited. Additional Protocol II prohibits acts or threats of violence when the primary purpose is to spread fear among the civilian population.
The country is also the signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which establishes as a war crime “intentionally [directing] attacks against buildings dedicated to […] education […], hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives.
When collecting the data, the UN applied Security Council Resolution 1998 (Monitoring and reporting attacks on schools and/or hospitals and related protected personnel), which highlights the impact of armed conflict on the safety, education and healthcare of children, and calls for greater action to ensure that schools and hospitals are protected. The resolution refers to “attacks on schools and hospitals” as an umbrella formula both for attacks directed against schools and hospitals, as well as indirect harm resulting from conflict-related violence. This definition includes all acts that lead to the total destruction, compromised functioning or partial damage of educational and health institutions, as well as harm to protected persons, including killing, injuring, abduction and use of civilians as human shields.
This article was last updated on 9 Mar 2020