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With the re-election of President Obama, there has been much discussion about the War in Afghanistan. Usually, this discussion focuses on troop withdrawal or American deaths in Afghanistan. While these topics are undoubtedly important, Americans often forget to consider the plight of civilians remaining in Afghanistan. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with extremely high maternal mortality, infant mortality, and under-5 mortality rates. Beyond the dismal health indicators, women and girls suffer tremendously. Behind the burqas are tales of domestic violence, sexual violence, and targeted killings.

The UN Assistance Mission to Afghanistan recently released its 2012 Annual Report, entitled “Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict”. Inside are completely shocking numbers.

  • 1,302 Afghan girls and boys were killed or injured due to conflict-related violence in 2012
  • 116 children were recruited and used in armed conflict
  • 3 children died carrying out suicide attacks for anti-government forces
  • 865 Afghan women and girls were killed or injured due to conflict-related violence in 2012, a 20 percent increase from 2011
  • The number of women and girls killed and injured from incidents of targeted killings more than tripled in 2012, to a total of 51 casualties

While these numbers are shocking by themselves, the report doesn’t even cover the number of women, girls, men and boys subjected to sexual violence annually. Every day, there are news stories in about girls getting their throats slit when they refuse a forced marriage, or girls choosing to light themselves on fire rather than marry a 60-year-old man. Forced marriages and forced intercourse are considered to be types of sexual violence. According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, there were more than 3,000 instances of violence against women between March and September 2012. Violence against women is truly considered an undeniable and widespread reality in Afghanistan. Sexual violence experienced by women and girls in Afghanistan includes forced sexual intercourse, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, demands for illegitimate sexual acts, sexual insults and humiliations, and forced watching of pornographic films.

While the U.S. and other Western countries consider the withdrawal of troops and cessation of military action in Afghanistan, they cannot forget the women, girls, men and boys who they have sought to protect for the past 12 years. The U.S. intends to hand over their reins to the Afghani government and police force. We must work hard to ensure that this government does not turn its back on the most vulnerable the moment the last troop leaves Afghani airspace.