Child landmine victims rise, Afghanistan and Colombia rank worst

By Anastasia Moloney BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Afghanistan has the world's highest number of children killed or wounded by landmines and other explosive remnants of war, followed by Colombia, according to a leading anti-landmine group. In its annual Landmine Monitor report, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC) said the number of recorded casualties of mines and other explosive remnants of war has decreased to the lowest level since 1999, but child victims have risen. In 2013, children made up almost half of the 2,403 civilian landmine casualties worldwide whose age was known, 7 percent more than the previous year, the report said. Afghanistan had 487 child casualties in 2013 - nearly half of the world’s child landmine victims last year - followed by Colombia with 57 child casualties and Syria coming in a close third, it said. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen and South Sudan, children comprise at least 75 percent of civilians killed or wounded by landmines and unexploded ordnance, the report found. "Children in general are more likely to deliberately handle explosive devices than adults, often unknowingly, out of curiosity, or by mistaking them for toys," ICBL-CMC said in its latest fact sheet. Boys make up the majority of child landmine casualties worldwide, the report said. Boys, who tend to participate more in outdoor activities like herding livestock, gathering wood and food, or collecting scrap metal, are more likely to come into contact with mines and unexploded ordnance, it said. COLOMBIA’S REBEL GROUPS In Colombia, the country’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), planted most of the landmines and explosive devices across rural areas as part of its 50-year war against the government. The conflict has made the South American country one of the most mine-scarred in the world. As the Colombian government and FARC commanders hold two-year-old peace talks in Cuba in a bid to end the war - without a ceasefire on either side - the country’s landmine victim tally continues to rise. “All Colombians need to push forward with the task of promoting a special agreement on mines as part of the peace talks and before any eventual peace deal is signed. This is the only way the number of mine casualties will be reduced,” said Alvaro Jimenez, head of the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines, part of ICBL-CMC's global network. Earlier this year, the Colombian anti-mine group urged peace negotiators to consider humanitarian landmine clearance while the talks are underway. “We’re still waiting for a response to our proposal,” Jimenez told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview. Nearly 11,000 Colombians have been wounded or killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance since 1990 - 1,101 of whom were children, according to latest government figures. (Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, editing by Alisa Tang.)