Special representative says rehabilitation of war-affected children must be placed at forefront of international response to afghan situation

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9-Nov-01

NEW YORK, 9 November — Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, today called on the international community to ensure that the well-being and rehabilitation of war-affected children become a central concern in any response to the situation in Afghanistan. He said, No peace is likely to be sustainable unless children and youth are provided with rehabilitation and hope, so that they become a constructive force in rebuilding their country. Only by doing what is right for children today, can we build a solid foundation for peace and security tomorrow . Children make up 50 per cent of a total population of 23 million Afghans.

The Special Representative said more than 20 years of war in Afghanistan have defined the lives of at least two generations of children, most of whom have grown up in the midst of violence, death, deprivation, lack of education and despair. Some of the direct and indirect impact of conflicts which have been particularly devastating for children include:

— 25 per cent of children in Afghanistan die before the age of five (the fourth highest child-mortality rate in the world); 60 per cent of these deaths are due to preventable diseases;

— 50 per cent of the children suffer from malnutrition;

— 75 per cent of Afghans have no access to health care or clean water;

— An estimated 2 million children are refugees or internally displaced persons;

— Less than 10 per cent of girls and less than 40 per cent of boys attend primary school;

— 40 per cent of children living in Kabul have lost at least one parent; there are about 700,000 war widows in the country;

— Children account for about 30 per cent of some 100,000 landmine victims in a country estimated to have 10 million mines;

— 50,000 street children in Kabul are the primary income earners for their households and there are thousands of street children among refugees in neighbouring countries; and

— Life expectancy in Afghanistan is 46 years, one of the lowest in the world.

normal’>Mr. Otunnu stated, The children of Afghanistan need to be given viable and productive alternatives through rehabilitation, recreation, education and vocational opportunities. This will require commitment of priority and resources.

font-weight:normal’> Mr. Otunnu called on donors to support the United Nations Consolidated Appeal, especially to provide immediate humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable children in need of water, food, shelter and health care — it is estimated that 1. 7 million children are at risk this winter from freezing or starvation. I also appeal to the donor community to prepare for long-term rehabilitation for war-affected children, and to commit resources for the recovery and development of Afghanistan , he said.

font-weight:normal’>In the context of the current military campaign, Mr. Otunnu called for strict compliance with provisions of international humanitarian and human rights law. He called for effective and systematic monitoring of the conduct of the parties to the conflict, in order to ensure full accountability in the event of war crimes, particularly those committed against children and women.

font-weight:normal’>Mr. Otunnu expressed deep concern about the large numbers of child soldiers in Afghanistan and reports of widespread and increasing recruitment for military action of young persons below the age of 18, by both the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces. We must mobilize all levels of international pressure to end this, he stated.

The Special Representative called on all parties to the conflict to adhere to the provisions of several Security Council resolutions concerning the protection of children in situations of armed conflict, and in particular SC 1261 (1999), which recognizes the protection and well-being of war-affected children as an important peace-and-security concern; SC 1314 (2000), which provides specific measures to safeguard children in situations of conflict; and SC 1325 (2000), which recognizes the need for the special protection of girls and women during humanitarian crises.

Mr. Otunnu commended the work being done by the humanitarian relief community inside Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. He paid particular tribute to the Afghan humanitarian personnel who continue to provide relief and assistance to children and women within the country. Their commitment and endeavours will be the foundation of our efforts to rebuild local capacity in Afghanistan , he said.

The Special Representative said his Office is working in close collaboration with United Nations and non-governmental organization partners to promote and integrate the protection and rights of children in all peacemaking and peace-building actions in Afghanistan, including through the deployment of specialized staff such as child protection advisers. In connection with this, Mr. Otunnu said he has been holding consultations with Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan.

font-weight:normal’>Mr. Otunnu concluded, In order to break the decades-old cycle of conflict and ensure sustainable peace, it is imperative to address the factors of despair,

alienation, and radical indoctrination of children and youth. This must be the last generation of Afghan children to experience war.

(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:Bodine Williams at:Telephone:212-963-9879; Facsimile:212-963-0807; E-mail:Williamsb@un. org