The impact of IEDs on children in Afghanistan

A woman and her children run across a dusty street in Herat Afghanistan A woman and her children run across a dusty street in Herat Afghanistan © UNAMA/Fraidoon Poya

This article is a brief presentation of the report of Action on Armed Violence on the impact of Improvised Explosive Devices on Afghan children

In its new report, the global monitor Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) focuses on the impact of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on children in Afghanistan.

Covering the period from 2019 to January 2020, the report documents child casualties caused by IEDs, Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) and suicide bombers in both urban and rural areas of the country.

After almost 19 years of war, the Afghan conflict has become one of the longest and deadliest in the world, continuing to take a heavy toll on the civilian population. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) systematic documentation  of civilian casualties, since 2009  more than 100,000 persons have been killed or  injured. UNAMA also observed  an increase of civilian casualties caused by combined suicide and non-suicide IED attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State of the Khorasan Province (ISKP). In 2019, civilian casualties  caused by IEDs attributed to the Talbin reached an unprecedented hight. Similarly, child casualties continued to be significant and increased by  2%  as compared to  2018.

Children continue to be disproportionately affected by the ongoing conflict with   maiming caused by explosive remnants of war and attacks through IED  being the main concerns.  In addition, in  2018 alone, nearly 1 000 children were killed, and 2 135 others were injured,. In  2019, 2 149 casualties were reported, constituting an increase of 3% as compared to the previous year. The report lists as the main causes:  ground engagements (39%), suicide IEDs (15%) and non-suicide IEDs (18%). AOAV  finds that the use of IEDs in both suicide and non-suicide attacks has increased as compared to 2018.  In particular, Victim Operated IEDs (VOIEDs) cause most of the child casualties in rural and mostly Taliban controlled areas, whereas complex IED-attacks, e.g. through VBIEDs, which cause a higher number of casualties, are most frequent in urban and mostly government controlled zones . For the Taliban, rural VOIEDs are part of  the defensive strategy to prevent governmental military intervention in areas controlled by them. The Taliban place VOIEDs on access routes to factories and facilities, which  poses  dangers to children playing in these streets. 

The dangers to children are further aggravated through attacks on schools and health facilities and their “long-term impact on children’s wellbeing”. During the recent Afghan presidential election, Taliban repeatedly targeted schools and health care facilities as, despite recommendations of the United Nations to use mosques instead,  government-owned schools and health facilities  were used as voting  centres . The indiscriminate attacks caused 458 civilian casualties, of which 85 were killed and 373 injured,  albeit the Taliban’s  claims that civilians had not been targeted directly, it is evident that they disregarded potential civilian casualties in the planning of such attacks. The Islamic State of Khorasan Province (ISKP) also continues not discriminate governmental targets from civilians in fighting against the government; infact on August 2019, the ISKP executed a suicide attack in Kabul, causing 50 child casualties. The ISKP targets specific ethnic groups, such as the Shi’a Muslim community within the Hazara tribal population.

The armed groups also continue recruiting children to execute suicide attacks as they are particularly vulnerable to promises of an afterlife in paradise and other their forms of  indoctrination. Children are also recruited as they are less in the focus of the security forces, thus being able to easily infiltrate into government controlled areas to conduct IED attacks. Evidence shows that the. ISKP recruits underage children in mosques and indoctrinates  them with “a violent interpretation of Islamic teachings” and brainwashes them to undertake suicide missions. In 2019, AOAV reported  two suicide attacks carried out by children in Nangarhar and Kunduz, which caused 45 civilian casualties, respectively 10 civilian casualties. 

The clashes between governmental forces and insurgency groups remain the main cause for child casualties. AOAV is thus concerned  about the psychological harm caused by IEDs attacks, causing children to frequently  suffer from long-term anxiety, sleep disturbances and prolonged depressions. AOAV sees boys as most affected by the explosive violence due to the “male-dominated street life in Afghanistan”. The high number of civilian casualties and the toll this takes on  breadwinners within Afghan families led boys to quit schools and start working at a young age to provide financial support to  their families. As girls are less to  attend schools or even to go outside by themselves, it is boys who are more exposed  to the thread by IEDs than girls.

In conclusion, AOAV shows how IEDs were “devastating childhoods and rupturing innocence”.  Despite the high number of child casualties, the impact of IEDs on children is a  hardly discussed and not given priority  and AOAV thus hopes that “this briefing document can focus minds and intentions to address this horror”. 


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Author: Silvia Luminati

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