Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Children of war: the real casualties of the Afghan conflict

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 09 February 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:349
  1. Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta, Husein Lalji Dewraj professor of paediatrics (
  1. Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan

    Ignorance, isolation, illness, violence, and social upheaval have produced a “lost generation”; failure to provide long term support for Afghanistan risks losing another

    To many observers of the Afghan conflict, it seems as if the world suddenly discovered Afghanistan after 11 September 2001. Passing interest following the Soviet invasion in 1979 and the subsequent struggle of the Mujahideen against its occupation was soon replaced by war weariness and disinterest. The rise of the Taliban and their draconian policies made Afghanistan a pariah state. Events have moved quickly in recent months, with the US attack on Afghanistan, the defeat of the Taliban and the installation of an interim multiethnic government. However, few are fully aware of the plight of the main victims of this tragedy, the women and children of Afghanistan. Fewer still understand the genesis and significance of the Taliban movement and its relation to events in neighbouring Pakistan. This article explores the origin of the current Afghan crisis and describes the impact of a quarter of a century of incessant conflict on Afghan children.

    Summary points

    The rise of the Taliban and the genesis of the current Afghan conflict was in no small measure due to global apathy to the plight of Afghanistan

    The women and children of Afghanistan, both among refugees and resident populations, have paid a disproportionate price for this conflict

    The rates of malnutrition, disease, and death among Afghan children rank among the highest in the world

    In addition to the many injuries due to landmines and artillery, over 80% of Afghan children interviewed reveal some psychological scars of war

    Women and children must be the prime focus of attention in rebuilding Afghanistan, through sustained efforts at improving health, nutrition, and education

    Impact of the Soviet invasion (1979-89)

    The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the subsequent brutal military campaign resulted in one …

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