NATO’s top civilian representative in Afghanistan has been forced to clarify remarks he made suggesting children were safer in Kabul than in London or New York.
Mark Sedwill said he had expressed himself badly in the interview with the BBC children’s television news program Newsround.
“Any comment you have to clarify obviously wasn’t very well put and the comparison I made with western cities distracted attention from the important point I was seeking to make,” he said.
“I was trying to explain to an audience of British children how uneven violence is across Afghanistan.
“Half the insurgent violence takes place in 10 of the 365 districts and, in those places, children are too often the victims of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and other dangers.
“But, in cities like Kabul where security has improved, the total levels of violence, including criminal violence, are comparable to those which many western children would experience.
“For most Afghans, the biggest challenges are from poverty – the absence of clean water, open sewers, malnutrition, disease – and many more children are at risk from those problems than from the insurgency.”
The former British ambassador to Kabul had been responding to a question about Afghan children who had told the program that they felt unsafe on the streets because of the risk of bomb attacks.
Mr Sedwill said there were “very few of those bombs” in Kabul and other major Afghan cities, according to a statement from the BBC.
“Most children can go about their lives in safety. It’s a very family-orientated society. So, it is a little bit like a city of villages,” he added.
Civilian casualties are at their highest this year since the start of the US-led invasion to oust the hardline Islamist Taliban from power in late 2001.
The United Nations said in August that 1271 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of the year, a rise of one third over the same period in 2009, mostly in insurgent attacks.
The UN report also noted a 55 percent increase in casualties among children.
The UN children’s agency said last year that deteriorating security was harming children in Afghanistan, with attacks targeting schools and preventing access to vital health care.
Attacks include mysterious apparent gas poisonings that have been blamed on Taliban militants opposed to girls’ education and acid attacks on young girls.
A child was among three people killed on Saturday when a suicide bomber on a bicycle blew himself up in Mihtarlam in eastern Laghman province.