For Immediate Release

United Nations, 6 August 2002 (New York): Following the completion of a mission to Afghanistan (21-28 July 2002), the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, called for major investments in the children and youth of Afghanistan. He stated: “Apart from the imperative of establishing durable peace and security, a special and overarching challenge facing Afghanistan is the grave situation of children and youth. Investing particularly in their education, nutrition and basic medical care must become top priority for both the Government of Afghanistan and the international community.” He added, “Investing in children is one of the best ways to turn a new page in Afghanistan and to secure a more promising future. It is also the best way to prevent young people from being vulnerable to radical indoctrination and manipulation for conflict.”

Apart from Kabul, Mr. Otunnu visited the Shomali Plains, Mazar-e-Sharif, Kandahar and the Spinboldak-Chaman zonal area on the Afghanistan -Pakistan border. In these places, he visited schools, orphanages, projects for street children, hospitals, prisons, and camps for internally displaced persons; he held discussions with various groups of children, women’s groups and teachers. Mr. Otunnu held wide-ranging discussions with senior government ministers, governors and military leaders in the provinces, members of the Human Rights Commission, national and international NGOs, representatives of UN agencies as well as the diplomatic community.

1 out of every 3 children (over 1 million children) have lost one or both parents;

20% of children die before their first birthday, mostly from preventable diseases.

50% of children suffer from chronic malnutrition;

About half the 200,000 landmine victims are children; Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world (over 7 million landmines);

An estimated 2 million children were uprooted by war;

There is a significant number of working and street children, mainly due to chronic poverty within the family; 50,000 street children in Kabul are their family’s primary income earners;

Children under 18 years of age have been used as combatants by all warring groups over the last two decades;

Over 8,000 schools have been destroyed; more than 80% of schools remain without basic facilities.

More than 66% children have witnessed a violent death; after decades of exposure to violence many children suffer from psychosocial trauma;

Under Taliban regime, less than 10% of girls were enrolled in primary schools;

Providing education — Rehabilitating schools, providing educational materials and paying teachers.

Reversing malnutrition — At the bottom of widespread malnutrition is the chronic poverty within the family; to break this cycle it is urgent to develop income-generating projects –especially for women — such as: cooperative ventures in bakeries, carpet weaving, animal husbandry, as well as the rehabilitation of defunct small industries.

Basic medical care for children and women — It is crucial to focus special attention on the basic health conditions of children and women that remain particularly precarious. This should include: extension and mobile medical services to monitor and meet the basic needs of children and women, both in the urban and rural areas.

National Commission for Children — There is a need of an overarching, crosscutting framework to give prominence and focus, in a comprehensive way, to key issues concerning the rehabilitation and development of children. A National Commission for Children would play such a role, ensuring that the concerns of children are translated into policy-making, priority-setting and resource allocation at the highest political and policy levels.

Child Protection Adviser in UNAMA — A Child Protection Adviser (CPA) should be included in the staff of the UNAMA, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1379, to ensure that the protection, rights and rehabilitation of children and youth is a priority in all aspects of UN activities in Afghanistan, and to help place the concerns of Afghanistan’s children prominently into national policy and reconstruction agenda.

Displaced children and their families — The conditions of displaced children, particularly in the Spinboldak camp and in the “no mans land” between the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, are entirely unacceptable, with little or no provision of schooling, food water, or recreation. Their resettlement and provision of basic services is an urgent challenge.

Eliminating landmines — Commendable work on landmine clearance is being done;

there is need for sustained support for these efforts, including provision of prostheses

and landmine awareness campaigns,

Addressing the plight of street and working children –These children are unable to attend school because they have to work to feed their families. A “Food for School” programme (which would provide the families of these children with the necessary loaves of bread, thus freeing the children to attend school) should be organized and targeted to this group.

Voice of Children — The development of radio programmes — “Voice of Children” — specifically devoted to the needs and interests of children that would serve to give voice to children’s concerns, offer education, entertainment and health advice, while promoting tolerance and reconciliation among young people.

Strengthening traditional values for the protection of children — Afghan traditional values and practices place a particular premium on the protection of children, even though these have come under enormous pressure during the war; these values and practices need to be supported and strengthened.

Participation of children — The children and youth of Afghanistan long for opportunities to participate actively in the rebuilding and the healing of their country. To underscore this and to highlight children’s agenda at the national as well as international levels, Mr. Otunnu announced that plans are underway (in collaboration with the Government of Afghanistan, UN agencies, local and international NGOs) to hold a national conference of Afghan children (a children’s Jirga) with broad-based participation.

Helping to build Afghan local capacities — In commending their excellent work, Mr. Otunnu urged UN agencies and international NGOs to spare no efforts to ensure that their activities fall into the framework of Afghanistan’s needs and priorities, and to support building Afghan institutional capacities, particularly in Government and with civil society organizations. “This is the best way to ensure long-term sustainability,” he stated.

In expressing his appreciation to the donor community, Mr. Otunnu appealed to them to invest in children and youth (beyond provisions of immediate relief) and to expedite disbursement for committed funds.

Concluding, Mr. Otunnu indicated that he was very impressed by certain emerging trends that augur well for the future of the country:

the universal relief at the restoration of peace and freedom, even though there are the deep concerns about continuing incidence of insecurity and the struggle of most families for sheer day-to-day survival

the remarkable signs of recovery of daily life and commercial activities in the main cities

the strength, forcefulness and determination of the Afghan women.

the resilience of the children and their thirst (both boys and girls) for schooling.

The Special Representative serves as international advocate for children affected by armed conflict by promoting standards and measures for their protection in times of war as well as their healing and social reintegration in the aftermath of conflict.

For further information from the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG-CAAC), please contact:

For Immediate Release