Afghanistan's security forces and insurgent groups are both recruiting children to serve as fighters and the Taliban also is using young people as suicide bombers, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.
He urged all factions to immediately stop exploiting children.
In his first report to the Security Council on the Afghan war's impact on children, Ban said other problems include sexual abuse of children, especially boys, and a "worrisome increase" in the number of child victims caused by militant attacks on civilian targets.
He also cited an "ever increasing number of children inadvertently killed during engagements by international and Afghan forces." He urged U.S., NATO and Afghan troops to implement rules of engagement that include special measures protecting children.
Ban said monitoring abuses of children in Afghanistan has been difficult because of increasing violence and the difficulty of obtaining and checking victim and eyewitness accounts. He said much of the available data is not broken down by age and sex.
"The report focuses on grave violations perpetrated against children in Afghanistan and identifies parties to the conflict, both state and non-state actors, who commit grave abuses against children," Ban said. "In particular, the report highlights the fact that children have been recruited and utilized (as fighters) by state and non-state armed groups ... ."
He said children have been used as soldiers by all factions during 30 years of wars in Afghanistan.
Even though the Afghan government demobilized 7,444 underage soldiers in 2003, there has not been any monitoring of children vulnerable to recruitment, Ban said.
"Allegations of recruitment of children by armed groups have been received from all regions, particularly from the south, southeast and east" — areas with the most fighting, he said.
A U.N. study of suicide attacks documented cases of children allegedly used as suicide bombers by the Taliban, he said. "Most of these children were between 15 and 16 years of age and were tricked, promised money or forced to become suicide bombers."
On the government side, Ban said, there are reports of children seen serving in the Afghan National Auxiliary Police and there are documented cases of young people recruited by the Afghan National Police.
Call for age verification
Ban called on Afghan security forces to adopt procedures to verify the age of recruits "and take appropriate measures to improve the protection of children."
"Grave abuses" of children aren't limited to the battlefield, Ban added.
"Violence against children, specifically of a sexual nature, occurs particularly during times of instability," he said. "The practice of `bacha-baazi' (boy-play) consists of boys kept cloistered and used for sexual and harmful social entertainment by warlords and other armed group leaders."
He called on the Afghan government to enact laws to punish sexual violence, implement programs to support the victims of such abuse and work with U.N. officials to study ways to quell "harmful practices, including that of bacha-baazi."