May 2003 - In Afghanistan, which for years was associated with the fundamentalist regime of the Taliban, Islamic leaders have been developing positive partnerships with UNICEF in recent months to promote core services and programmes for women and children.
Afghanistan remains a traditional Islamic country where religious scholars and clergy play an important role in the day-to-day life of its citizens. In most communities, especially those in rural parts of the country, imams and mullahs are seen as both spiritual and religious leaders and also a trusted source of guidance and advice on issues of the day. The potential for the religious community in Afghanistan to assist in the promotion of messages relating to children’s rights has been taken up by UNICEF, which in May 2003, supported the first national workshop on children’s issues for religious leaders from across the nation.
The three day seminar, held as part of the country’s National Day of Unity for Children celebrations, brought together religious leaders from all 32 provinces to discuss the role and importance of children within an Islamic context. High on the agenda was the issue of education for all, along with health and basic services for women and children.
Delegates produced a keynote declaration which underlined the Islamic view of children as being vital parts of the community, and called for prioritisation of services that help strengthen children’s chances of development. “Children constitute the foundation of human society, through which the well-being of individuals and communities can be ensured. The maintenance of the people’s physical and mental well-being is one aim of the Islamic sharia, while sound education particularly for children is one of the principles of the Islamic faith,” the declaration stated, going on to call for “serious attention to be given to promotion of health and education of children and students, to strengthen and promote the national and Islamic solidarity and spirit.” The declaration also called for an end to exploitative child labour, child trafficking and the recruitment of children into armed groups
Since the establishment of the new administration in Afghanistan in late 2001, UNICEF has worked closely with religious leaders to promote key programmes including girls’ education and child health. Imams regularly promote girls’ enrolment, national immunization days and other health campaigns through Friday worship across Afghanistan, while is areas of the country with limited school and medical facilities mosques have been used to provide classrooms and immunization centres.
Declaration of the Seminar:
Children constitute the foundation of human society, through which the wellbeing of individuals and communities can be ensured. The maintenance of the people’s physical and mental wellbeing is one aim of the Islamic sharia, while sound education particularly for children is one of the principles of the Islamic faith. In our country, education begins from childhood and the early stages of life, to nurture those who can lead the country in accordance to the policy of achieving progress and prosperity, and preventing social ills and extremism.
In view of the opinions expressed and presentations made during the three days of this seminar, we the participants strongly pledge ourselves to the following declaration. We also request that while the concerns sectors do their utmost in fulfilling these recommendations the declaration is distributed widely via the mass media, mosques and Takayas:
1. Serious attention should be given to promotion of health and education of children and students, to strengthen and promote the national and Islamic solidarity and spirit.
2. Efforts should be made to absorb more girls into the kindergarten, primary school, maddaris and high school systems.
3. Teaching methods and the curriculum of the primary and middle school systems should be reviewed to adequately address the needs of students.
4. There is a need for facilitating admission of young children, particularly in vulnerable groups and children of martyrs, to kindergartens & schools.
5. Teaching of literacy and Islamic values through mosques and other cultural institutions for girls and boys should be strengthened and expanded.
6. Adequate healthcare for women during pregnancy, childbirth and lactation, and particularly for women of limited economic circumstances, should be provided.
7. Good health should be ensured for all children, and programmes of the Ministry of Health should be supported.
8. The production and expansion of iodized salt across the country should be promoted.
9. Teaching methods and curriculum of religious subjects at the primary, secondary and religious school level, should be reviewed for quantitative and qualitative improvement.
10. Educational activities should be organized across the country via the mass media, particularly radio and television for promotion of children’s health and growth.
11. A legislative governmental body to protect the rights of all children and mothers should be established.
12. Special attention should be given to children with special needs, such as orphans and disabled children.
13. The unlawful recruitment of children into the military forces and child labor should be prevented, because the maintaining of stability is essential to the physical and mental development of children. All efforts to undermine peace and stability should be avoided.
14. Children should be protected from unhealthy environments, drug abuse and child trafficking.
15. A concerted effort by all concerned organizations and religious leaders across the country are needed to identify and prevent the inhumane act of child trafficking.
16. We thank the organizers of this national seminar, the Ministry of Ershad, Haj-o-Awqaf and UNICEF, for their work and recommend that similar gatherings be held at regional and provincial levels.
In closing, we the participants of the seminar express our gratitude to His Excellency President Hamid Karzai for his contribution to the seminar and hope that under his guidance and instructions, related governmental bodies will spare no effort in the implementation and follow-up of our declaration.