KANDAHAR  The importance of protecting the rights and well-being of children in the ongoing conflict came to life during several UN-backed events in Kandahar and Kunduz in recent weeks.

Hundreds of community members, including women and children, gathered in several districts of the southern province of Kandahar to watch theatrical performances organized by UNAMA’s regional office there, with the goal of helping audiences reflect on their roles and responsibilities as parents, teachers and community members in making the province a safer place.

“The performance skilfully presented the rights of our children,” said Abdullah, a resident of Kandahar’s Arghandab district, during an after-show discussion with the performers. Abdullah called attention to some of the salient points highlighted by the performers, including the duty of community members to protect children from being drawn into the conflict.

During the first nine months of 2018, according to UNAMA’s latest Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, 2,136 children were killed or injured as a result of the armed conflict. During that period, UNAMA continued to receive reports of incidents of sexual abuse and recruitment and use of Afghan girls and boys, highlighting the severe impact of the armed conflict in Afghanistan on children.

In 2011, the Afghan government and the UN signed a Joint Action Plan for the Prevention of Underage Recruitment. In 2014, the government’s Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Children and Armed Conflict endorsed a 15-point road map toward compliance with the action plan, drafted jointly by the Afghan Government and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF and UNAMA.

Measures outlined in the road map include the criminalisation of the recruitment and use of children. According to international law, a child associated with an armed force or armed group refers to any person younger than 18 years old who is, or who has been, recruited or used by an armed force or armed group in any capacity. This includes, but is not limited to, boys and girls used as fighters, cooks, suicide bombers, human shields, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes.

Following a similar outreach event organized by UNAMA’s Kunduz regional office, audience members in the northeastern province made the point that access to education reduces the likelihood that youth will be lured into joining armed groups. “As a teacher, I have seen how education or illiteracy influences the decisions of young people,” said Abdullah Khan, a resident of Kunduz’s Khanabad district.

Kandahar and Kunduz provinces have, in the recent years, witnessed a deterioration in the security situation, affecting thousands of families. Many have been pushed into deeper poverty with no access to employment opportunities or essential services such as healthcare and education. The situation is particularly dire in remote and rural districts of both provinces.

Facilitated by UNAMA’s regional offices in Kandahar and Kunduz, the events were part of a series of outreach initiatives aimed at creating opportunities using radio, television and social media for local communities to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting them.

Under its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.

UNAMA provides ‘good offices’ and other key services, including diplomatic steps that draw on the organization’s independence, impartiality and integrity to prevent disputes from arising, escalating or spreading. The Mission coordinates international support for Afghan development and humanitarian priorities.

This news story was originally published by UNAMA