UNSG concerned by child casualties in Kashmir


United NationsUN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed concern over the child casualties in Kashmir but noted a decline in the recruitment of children by Maoists in Jharkhand due to the government’s efforts in his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict.

The report released on Monday said that the UN has verified the killing of eight children in Kashmir and the maiming of seven by the Lakshar-e-Taiba (LeT), shelling across the Line of Control and by the security forces.

The report did not give details beyond attributing 10 incidents to the security forces, one to the LeT and another to “unidentified armed elements” — usually a euphemism for terrorists.

It said three incidents happened during cross-border shelling.

Guterres said in the report that the casualties in Kashmir occurred mainly due to “torture in detention, shootings, including from pellet guns, and cross-border shelling”.

The report said that attacks on nine schools by “unidentified elements” had been verified.

Guterres said that he was concerned about the detention of 68 children between the ages of nine and 17 on national security-related charges with one of them held for allegedly associating with “armed groups”.

He asked the government to take preventive measures to protect children and to ban the use of pellet guns against them.

He said that he was concerned about the arrest of children at night, and their internment in army camps, “torture in detention” and detention without due process as he urged the government to end these practices.

His report said that “in Jharkhand State, approximately 10 children were reportedly rescued by Indian police from Naxalite insurgency groups, who allegedly abducted them or used them in support or combat capacities”.

“I note the decline, as a result of government efforts, in the number of reports of child recruitment and of the killing and maiming of children relating to the Naxalite insurgency,” Guterres added.

Around the world, Guterres’ report said the UN verified over 25,000 grave violations against children and there was a 400 per cent increase in “the denial of humanitarian access to children with 4,400 verified incidents”.

His Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC), Virginia Gamba, who said, “The childhood of these boys and girls has been replaced by pain, brutality and fear while the world watches. Parties to conflict neglect to protect children in the conduct of hostilities and deny them the vital aid they desperately need.”

In his report Guterres said that 39 child casualties in Afghanistan happened due to “cross-border engagements at the border with Pakistan” and one school was attacked during cross-border shelling from Pakistan territory.

He said that Afghanistan was the deadliest conflict zone for children with 3,410 verified incidents — an increase of 67 per cent — affecting 3,245 children.

Ten children were killed or injured in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir “during armed clashes or by shelling or targeted fire across the Line of Control”, according to the report. Two schools there were “reportedly attacked across the line of control”, it added.

Guterres called on the Pakistan government to protect children, especially around the LoC, and health workers in the campaign against polio, which recorded 660 attacks.

There were 10 other child casualties in Pakistan in occupied Kashmir, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab for which “responsibility could not be attributed”.

A controversial aspect of the report was the omission of Saudi Arabia and its allies in Yemen.

Gamba, who spoke to reporters at the release of the report, attributed the omission to “sustained and significant” decrease in child casualties due to air attacks from 1,700 five years ago to 171 last year.

Former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had removed critical mention of the Saudi coalition from the report in 2016 under Saudi threat to withhold funds, but Guterres had included it the following year.
(Arul Louis can be reached at arul.l@ians.in)