When school’s not safe: Afghan war takes toll on children

KABUL: Sixteen-year-old Madina still has nightmares about the day two huge blasts tore through her school in Kabul, showering shards of broken window glass on her and other students. She survived, with lacerations to her arms and legs. The physical wounds are slowly healing, but she remains haunted by the stress of the attack.
Madina, like many of her generation in Afghanistan, has never known peace and experts warn the psychological impact of living in a country where schools are often on the front line, and counselling is in short supply, can be overwhelming.
“It was a scary day. I still have nightmares, I cannot focus, it was very hard to prepare for exams,” Madina recalled. She had to take her maths exam in the corridor at her shattered school as many classrooms have been left unusable.
The US and Taliban claim progress in ongoing peace talks, but little has changed for Afghans, and recent attacks underscore how children remain as vulnerable as ever in the grinding conflict. A UN tally found last year was the deadliest on record, with at least 3,804 civilian deaths caused by the war — including 927 children. And in the first six months of 2019, children accounted for nearly one-third of civilian casualties.
“In the first few days after the attack, you could see the trauma on students’ faces, they would cry every minute,” Madina’s school director Niamatullah Hamdard said.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the number of attacks against Afghan schools tripled last year compared to 2017. By the end of 2018, more than 1,000 Afghan schools had been shut due to conflict, denying about 500,000 Afghan kids access to education.