Innocent child victims remain as Afghan pullout begins

As British forces bring to an end their eight-year command of Helmand Province and prepare to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, there is growing evidence that the continuing conflict in the country is having an unrelenting toll on children.

According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, 2013 saw a 14% increase in total civilian casualties compared to the previous year.

In particular, 2013 was the worst year for women, girls and boys, with the a 34% increase in the numbers of child casualties. In many ways, Mirwais regional hospital is a small microcosm of this wider tragedy.

It is set in Kandahar, birthplace and spiritual home of the Taliban.

It is the most medically advanced institution in the region, yet given the privileged perspective of the West, it seems cruel to describe conditions at the hospital as "advanced".

Families bring their sick and injured relatives by any means they can, sometimes putting them into the boot of their cars.

Mohammad Akhbar was injured and his brother was killed in an explosion. Credit: ITV News

Twelve-year-old Mohamed Akbar is one of the children being treated in the hospital. He was with his two brothers and cousin when a bomb or a rocket landed near them.

"One of my brothers was killed," he said. "The other was injured but my cousin is okay."

He doesn't know who fired the weapon but the reality is that it was not the explosion that killed his brother.

There were no medical facilities at all in the area where Mohamed lived, so his father had to drive him and his brother for ten hours searching for medical attention.

Mohamed's younger brother bled to death before they could reach Mirwais hospital.

His father Bismillah said: "We don't have any clinics or medicine or schools in our village.

"During the Taliban time we had nothing, and right now, it's still the same."

The UK has given £1.2bn in aid and assistance to Afghanistan since 2001 and the international community has given £40bn - and yet a father has to drive ten hours for basic medical help and has to watch his son bleed to death.

What has happened to the aid and relief projects funded by the international community?

Benoit de Gryse, head of Medecins Sans Frontiere's Afghanistan office, says: "We saw a lot of initiatives [in Afghanistan] but without a coherent vision those projects are now non-existent or they are already dysfunctional, so I think the interventions we've seen were based on a political or even a military agenda but not necessarily keeping the interests of Afghan patients at heart."

Mohamed Shafiq's three children are part of the grim statistic of the rise in the number of child victims of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Mohammed Shafiq's two sons and a daughter were killed by a suicide bomber. Credit: ITV News

A father of six, he owns a village shop a few kilometres from Kandahar. Last year he left his children at the shop as he went to visit his sick mother.

A suicide bomber, his device hidden in a motorbike, stopped near the shop to carry out a check.

The device exploded killing Mohamed's two sons and his daughter.

"At that point," he said, "I was lost. People's lives have not improved. I ask all those who said the foreigners would come with all their money and that if they left, Afghanstan would collapse - weren't Afghans living before_ they came?

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