LONDON (AlertNet) - The Taliban must end its "sickening" use of child suicide bombers in Afghanistan, some of whom are reportedly as young as seven, a U.S.-based human rights watchdog said on Thursday.
Suicide bombings have in recent months become more widespread across the country where NATO-led troops are fighting the Islamist group led by Mullah Omar – with assailants employing new tactics such as concealing bombs in turbans and using children.
Human Rights Watch said younger and younger children were being used in suicide attacks, calling it an "alarming" trend.
"The Taliban's use of children as suicide bombers is not only sickening, but it makes a mockery of Mullah Omar's claim to protect children and civilians," Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, referring to the movement's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar.
"Any political movement or army that manipulates or coerces children into becoming human bombs has lost touch with basic humanity."
Some children who were trained as suicide bombers said they were given amulets containing verses from the Koran by Taliban commanders who told them they would be protected from the explosion. They were also told that when they detonated their bomb, everyone else would die but they would survive.
The statement by the rights group came two days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered eight would-be child suicide bombers, including a seven-year-old, to be sent back to their families. The children had been groomed by the Taliban but rescued by authorities.
Aid groups say Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for children and that it has the world's highest infant mortality rate, with one in five children not making it to their fifth birthday.
"Growing up in the midst of war, struggling with poverty, illiteracy, and instability, Afghan children are already facing untold challenges," Adams said.
"Mullah Omar and the Taliban fighters he commands should respect their own code of conduct and stop strapping bombs to children and sending them out to commit suicide in a war they are too young to understand," he added.
Here is a list of incidents of suicide bombing involving children, according to Human Rights Watch:
* On Aug. 27, residents in the northeastern province of Badakhshan captured a 16-year-old who was wearing a suicide vest. He had been on his way to blow up a local mosque.
* On June 26, an 8-year-old girl was killed in central Uruzgan province when a bag of explosives that the Taliban had instructed her to carry to a police checkpoint detonated.
* On May 20, in Nuristan province, a suicide vest strapped to a 12-year-old boy exploded prematurely, killing several suspected insurgents, including the boy.
* In early May, five children, all under the age of 13, from Logar and Ghazni provinces and who had allegedly been trained as suicide bombers, were arrested by the National Directorate of Security.
* In early May, a 14-year-old boy who said he had been coerced by the Taliban into carrying a bomb under the threat that he would otherwise have his hand cut off surrendered to international troops in Ghazni province.
* On May 1, a 12-year-old boy blew himself up in a bazaar in the Barmal district of eastern Paktika province, killing four civilians and wounding 12 others.
* On April 13, in Kunar province, an explosive vest detonated by a 13-year-old boy killed 10 people, including 5 schoolboys.