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Many Afghan children are afraid to go outside,

Save the Children finds



Ten-year-old Hemat* sits inside his home in Kabul province. He is at risk of injury or death on his way to school every day.

“On my way to school I fear suicide attacks, kidnapping and that someone might kill me. There is war in my country."


Save the Children, 20th November 

  • The vast majority of respondents to a survey said children feel least safe on their way to school, the marketplace or when close to government buildings or checkpoints.
  • Large proportion of children in parts of Afghanistan suffer from symptoms such as depression and anxiety but lack access to vital support services to help them cope.
  • 2019 marks 18 years since the start of the conflict between the coalition forces and the Taliban. Children in Afghanistan have known nothing but war with serious implications to their mental health.
  • Findings published in wake of shocking reports that British troops killed unarmed Afghan children in 2012. Save the Children calls on UK Government to stop at nothing to establish the facts and, if the allegations are true, hold the perpetrators to account.

KABUL, 20th November 2019 – Two-thirds of parents surveyed in parts of Afghanistan say their children are scared of explosions, kidnappings or other forms of extreme violence on their journeys to school, a new report by Save the Children  has found. A survey[i] of 600 parents and 90 children across four provinces reveals the extent to which children are living in constant fear for their lives and lack support to help overcome their distressing experiences.

In some parts of the country 95 percent of parents who were interviewed said their children had experienced conflict. In the capital Kabul, it was 65 percent.

Children live in fear of explosives, gun violence and the sound of attack helicopters on their way to and at school, and also when they go to the market, or are simply playing outside with friends. Almost half of children surveyed (43%) said they feel ‘most afraid’ on their way to school. Girls felt less safe than boys and rated their journey to school as more dangerous than passing through checkpoints. Many of the children who were interviewed were scared even to go outside.

One 14-year-old girl from Sar-e-Pul, in the north of the country, said:

“When fighting breaks out, no place is safe in our village, but home is still better than outside. We hide in the corners of rooms.”


A 16-year-old girl from Kabul said:

"My 14-year-old brother was near an attack on Darulaman [road], and after the attack, he was always scared and anxious. He would stand up each time there was a sound at home, even the sound of a door closing."

Other key findings of the report include:

  • 62% of parents said their children had either direct or indirect experience of conflict
  • 24% of parents reported that children harm themselves due to experiencing conflict, a reaction found to be more prevalent among girls than boys
  • 45% percent of parents said their children experienced feelings of fear and anxiety because of conflict
  • 30% percent of parents said their children experienced prolonged sadness and insomnia because of conflict
  • 70% of parents indicated that armed clashes between the Afghan army and armed opposition groups posed the greatest threat to their children’s safety.
  • A majority of parents stated that their children felt most scared on their way to school (64%) and tothe market (55%)
  • 70% of parents said they had no access to counselling services for their children

Ten-year-old Hemat lives in a small village in Kabul province where he attends an informal school set up by Save the Children because there is no school in his area. He loves going to school but fears the journey to and from class every day. 

Hemat told Save the Children:

“On my way to school I fear suicide attacks, kidnapping and that someone might kill me. There is war in my country. People are killing children; we are not protected. And we don’t have proper schools. Lots of people got killed and there is no safe place for people.”

Onno van Manen, Save the Children’s Afghanistan Country Director, said:

“After 18 years, war has become so normalised in Afghanistan that children barely flinch when they hear a distant explosion or walk past the gruesome aftermath of a bomb blast. All this has become disturbingly routine. 


“Our research shows that Afghan children are facing a mental health crisis of epic proportions, being surrounded by extreme violence and with hardly any support services to help them cope. Communities affected by conflict need access to professional, child-focused counselling.


“Children must be protected on their way to school and schools must remain off-limits in armed conflicts. Children have a fundamental right to education and must never be forced to drop out of school simply because it’s too dangerous to attend.”

The BBC and The Sunday Times have recently reported allegations that in 2012 British troops killed Afghan civilians, including three children, and that it was then covered up.

George Graham, Save the Children’s Director for Children and Armed Conflict, said:


“The allegations that British troops killed Afghan children are deeply disturbing and if true could amount to war crimes. It’s also very troubling to think of the UK contributing to the mental anguish described in our report in this way.


“The families of these children deserve answers. ​The UK Government must find out what has happened, publish the findings and hold any perpetrators accountable. Their credibility as a force for good in the world depends on showing leadership to ensure that children are off-limits in conflict.”





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  • Conflict continues to pose a serious threat to children’s education. Records from the Afghan Ministry of Education (MoE) indicate that 1,153 schools have been affected in the on-going conflict since 2013. Recent years have seen a pronounced upward trend in the targeting of schools, with 2018 marking the year with the highest number of schools targeted (377). The rise in attacks on schools in 2018 is largely attributed to the use of schools as polling stations for the parliamentary election. MoE records further reveal that in the last six years, a total of 2,787 cases of school staff casualties have been documented, with the highest number (862) recorded in 2014, followed by 237 and 377 in 2016 and 2018.
  • Save the Children conducted this research to assess the impact of conflict in aggravating child protection issues in Afghanistan. Findings from the study will inform Save the Children’s programming and advocacy on how to best protect children in/affected by conflict in Afghanistan. Findings from the study will also be leveraged to influence government policies and decisions for the protection of conflict-affected children.
  • Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976. We currently implement programmes in 16 of 34 provinces, either directly or through partners, reaching more than 700,000 children.
  • Save the Children works closely with Afghan society on all levels. We work with children, parents, teachers, village councils, religious leaders, ministries and other national and international NGOs. Our way of working close to people on their own terms has enabled us to deliver lasting change to tens of thousands of children in the country.



[i] The research was undertaken over a two-week-long period in April 2019 in selected districts of Kabul, Balkh, Faryab and Sar-e-Pul provinces, using a combination of qualitative and quantitative tools. The qualitative research involved 30 interviews with key informants (6 females; 24 males) including relevant government officials at national and sub-national levels and national and international development partners. In addition, eight Focus Group Discussions – two per province – were held with children in the surveyed communities. The quantitative data was collected through a household survey, involving structured face-to-face interviews with 600 parents (50 percent female) and 90 children, 50 percent of whom were girls. The mean age for girls who participated in focus group discussions was 11 and for boys it was ten.

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