Afghan children pose for a photo as they stand in the snow outside their shelter at a refugee camp in Kabul
Afghan children pose for a photo as they stand in the snow outside their shelter at a refugee camp in Kabulreuters

A United Nations report has condemned the "appalling" number of children who have been killed during the violent conflict in Afghanistan. Around 161 children have died with 449 others wounded between January and March 2016, states a new report, which represents a 29% rise on the same period of time last year.

The cause is due to the growing number of Taliban attacks in heavily populated towns and surrounding areas, according to the UN's mission in Afghanistan.

"In the first quarter of 2016, almost one third of civilian casualties were children," said Danielle Bell, the mission's human rights director in the document.

"If the fighting persists near schools, playgrounds, homes and clinics, and parties continue to use explosive weapons in those areas… these appalling numbers of children killed and maimed will continue. Increased fighting in populated areas continues to kill and injure women and children at higher rates that the general population."

Taliban deny child deaths claim

However, the increase in child deaths comes in spite of an overall decrease in civilian fatalities. Six hundred people were injured during the first three months of 2016, which represents 13% fewer than in the same period of 2015. But the number of injuries has risen by 11%.

According to the UN report, six out of every 10 casualties this year were caused by "actions by anti-government elements", believed to refer to the Taliban. The insurgents have denied allegations of targeting civilians or putting them in danger.

Around 19% of casualties were inflicted by pro-government forces, but 16% were unattributable to a specific group or party. The highest number of casualties resulted from civilians being harmed during ground fighting, with a 5% increase in casualties among women.

Human rights call

"Even if a conflict intensifies, it does not have to be matched by corresponding civilian suffering, provided parties take their international humanitarian law and human rights obligations seriously," Nicholas Haysom, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, said in a statement according to AP.

"Failure to respect humanitarian obligations will result in more suffering in a nation that has suffered enough." he added.

The total number of civilian casualties since 2009 exceeds 60,000, according to the report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama).

Heavy fighting continues with police officials stating that at least 40 Taliban fighters were killed on 15 April in an offensive to seize the city of Kunduz, a key northern stronghold near the Tajikistan border, which the Taliban captured and held for several days last year.