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Kabul is safer for kids than New York City… if
Trevor Butterworth, November 22, 2010
…child homicide is the metric.

height artIn a widely-reported comment to a British children’s news show, Mark Sedwill, NATO’s top civilian envoy to Afghanistan, dismissed the dangers of Taliban bombs in major cities, saying that "Here and in Kabul and the other big cities, actually, there are very few of those bombs. The children are probably safer here than they would be in London, New York or Glasgow or many other cities.”

Reuters reports that the Charity organization “Save the Children” called the comments “daft,” given that one in five Afghani children die before they reach the age of five. But the reality is that most of these children die from infectious disease and malnourishment not bombings or homicide.

In 2009, according to the New York Times, there were approximately 33 homicides under the age of 18 in the city’s five boroughs. New York City government estimates that the there are almost two million children and teens under 18 in the city, which would give a homicide rate of approximately one in 60,000.

Kabul and its suburbs has a population of approximately 2.8 million; but the estimate is uncertain in the absence of a census, population migration, and differing definitions of the Kabul metropolitan area. Given that UNICEF estimates the proportion of Afghani aged under 18 at over 50 percent (an astonishing figure that derives from an extraordinarily low life expectancy of 44 years), it is reasonable to posit that the city contains some 1.4 million children.

According to the United Nations, 346 children died in Afghanistan as a whole as a result of the conflict in 2009. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN secretary general's special representative for children and armed conflict said that “149 were killed by air strikes, 22 during night raids by special forces, 123 by anti-government elements including the Taliban. There were 7 reported cases of child suicide bombing in Afghanistan during 2009.” She added that “these figures, of course, do not include the land mine cases.”

The UN estimates that the population of Afghanistan under the age of18 amounts to 14.5 million, which would give a death rate of approximately one per 42,000. So, overall, Afghanistan is less safe than New York City in terms of violent death. No surprise there.

But, as Sedwill noted, most of these deaths occur in rural areas and not in Kabul; so, if we’re going to compare likewith like, it seems reasonable to say that the homicide risk for children is, presumptively, lower for Afghani children living in the capital than it is for American children living in New York City.

Unfortunately, that’s scant comfort when so many other threats conspire to make their lives nasty, brutish and short.


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