Kabul, 24 February 2010 – The protection of children must be at the center of the reconciliation agenda of the Government of Afghanistan, as endorsed by the international community, said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy upon concluding her seven-day visit to Afghanistan.

“It is crucial that the upcoming Peace Jirga addresses child protection issues, especially recruitment and use of children, and begins the process of formulating UN Security Council-endorsed action plans for the release of children from armed groups and their reintegration into their communities. President Karzai gave me his commitment that these issues will be given high priority in the framework of the peace discussions,” said Ms Coomaraswamy.

The Special Representative recognised and welcomed the major change in tactics and attitude with regard to the protection of civilians by international and national forces since her last visit. Despite this, as recent events have shown, we are daily confronted with child casualties.

In 2009, 346 children were killed – 131 from air strikes, 22 from night searches and 128 by anti-government elements, including the Taliban, who used some children as suicide bombers – while 38 were killed by undetermined perpetrators.

“Children have to be protected. We stand ready to work with ISAF and the government armed forces to develop standard operating procedures that protect children during military operations, that spell out a protocol on how to deal with children associated with armed groups, and that outline practices to bring clarity to the delineation between civil and military activities, so that humanitarian assistance and humanitarian workers are not placed in danger,” added the Special Representative.

NATO commander General Stanley McChrystal assured the Special Representative that he will work with the United Nations to ensure the better protection of children.

“I was very happy to note the political will of the Afghan authorities demonstrated during my discussions to protect children affected by armed conflict. They have taken practical steps to do so, such as the implementation of an inter-ministerial steering committee for Children and Armed Conflict to work with UN agencies in monitoring and responding to grave violations against children and the appointment of focal points in the ministries of Defence and Interior to monitor and investigate incidents of under-age recruitment in the Afghan national security forces,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

With regard to the detention of children allegedly associated with armed groups, the Special Representative met separately with the ministers of Interior and Justice, who committed to give unlimited access to all detention facilities, including the National Directorate for Security (NDS) facilities, to United Nations child protection actors. The Minister of Justice also agreed to consider legislation to criminalize the recruitment and use of children.

Attacks on schools reached their highest levels in 2009, with over 600 incidents recorded. The Special Representative met with the Minster of Education and child protection partners to discuss measures to protect educational institutions. It was understood that the key to the security of schools and the safety of students is community ownership and involvement in the protection of schools.

SRSG Coomaraswamy also raised the issue of sexual violence against girls and boys, including the much condemned practice of “Bacha Bazi.” The Ministry of Interior has now set up a unit for crimes against women and children. This unit will focus on training staff to investigate and prosecute cases of sexual violence and other violations against women and children.

“The international community stands ready to fully support this unit in line with the recommendations put forward by the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict so that impunity can end. The children of Afghanistan have suffered enough,” she concluded.

During her visit, the Special Representative met with President Hamid Karzai, Ministers of Defence, Interior, Justice, Education, Public Health and Social Affairs. She also met with ISAF Commander General Stanley McChrystal as well as NGOs, children and their families.

For further information please contact:

  • Aditya Mehta – Associate PIO – mehta2@un.org – 0796002655 (UNAMA, Kabul)
  • Alec WargoOffice of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – wargo@un.org – +1 347-967-8606 (traveling with the SRSG)
  • Luca Solimeo, Communication Officer – Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – solimeo@un.org – +1917-367-3563 (in New York)