Incredibly … Child rights take centre stage in Afghanistan

Leveraging the children’s agenda in the Afghanistan narrative

By Alison Parker
Girls in Kandahar Province, southern Afghanistan, with UNICEF Afghanistan Youth Ambassador Hinna Asefi Wardak (centre) calling for the right to education, play, family, protection and an end to conflict.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2019/Fazel

06 May 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan, 6 May 2019 - As the world commemorates 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government of Afghanistan, in an époque making event in Kabul on Sunday, 5 May, launched the first ever Child Rights Protection Law (CRPL), otherwise known as the Child Rights Act, under the auspices of the 2nd Vice President, Mohammad Sarwar Danesh.  This launch follows the passage into law of the CRP Bill with a Presidential Decree by His Excellency President, Ashraf Ghani, on 5 March and enactment on 9 April 2019, 25 years after the Government of Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1994. 

UNICEF positioned as lead voice an advocate for children #ForEveryChild, every right

It was like a general assembly with the Second Vice President flanked by the Minister of Justice and Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled. “Children are the future. We cannot reach prosperity in #Afghanistan, unless we respect child rights”, says Vice President Daneshh. The hall was jam packed with journalists, civil society activists, humanitarian and development partners and, of course, children.  History was indeed made following years of discussions, lobbying, drafting, and engaging with policy makers, influencers, religious leaders and parliamentarians, amongst others. It was great to have UNICEF at the table, positioned as a lead voice and lead advocate on the rights of children. “The enactment of the Law on Protection of Child Rights is a historical moment, and a major milestone for all children of Afghanistan.  This law provides a legal framework that promotes, protects and guarantees the rights of every child and we at UNICEF are ready to support and endure every right for every child“, states UNICEF Afghanistan Representative OIC, Ms Sheema Sen Gupta. 

2nd Vice President H.E. Mohammad Sarwar Danesh at the launch of the first ever Child Rights Protection Law in Afghanistan. From right to left, UNICEF Afghanistan OIC Representative, Ms Sheema Sen Gupta, Mr Gulam Haidar Jilani, Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled & H.E. Abdul Basir Minister of Justice.
UNICEF Afghanistan/2019/Mohammadi
2nd Vice President H.E. Mohammad Sarwar Danesh at the launch of the first ever Child Rights Protection Law in Afghanistan. From right to left, UNICEF Afghanistan OIC Representative, Ms Sheema Sen Gupta, Mr Gulam Haidar Jilani, Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs & Disabled & H.E. Abdul Basir Minister of Justice.

Highlights of the Law

The Afghanistan Child Rights Protection Law 2019, defines the rights of children to services including birth registration, health, education, vaccination, social protection and child protection. Health facilities are mandated to register birth and provide parents with birth certificates; parents are obligated to vaccinate children within first 24 hours; and on child nutrition, a child has the right to 2-years breastfeeding. 

Additionally, the Law provides for equal rights of boys and girls to free and mandatory education up to completion secondary school and no one, including parents, can prohibit children from education.

For the first time, Ministries are obligated to adopt necessary measures for the protection of all children  who have suffered from neglect, abuse, sexual exploitation, torture, or any other inhuman and insulting punishment; to be reintegrated safely and with dignity; protection of separated children, and reunification with family; defines child-friendly due process for children in conflict with the law; and obligates legal and justice sectors to provide children with free legal aid services and representation.

The recruitment and use of children in armed conflict is recognized as a violation of child rights and perpetrators shall be prosecuted; relevant Ministries and governmental institutions are obligated to adhere to the provisions of International Humanitarian Law, particularly the additional Protocols to the Geneva Convention related to children in armed conflict; and prevent the use and recruitment of children who have not completed the age of 18 years in the armed forces and participation in armed conflict.

Children, followers of other religion, are free to pursue their religion, within the scope of law; children are granted freedom of speech and expression; access to information; and the right to establish associations.

Structures for implementation

The Afghanistan CRPL provides for the establishment of a National Commission for Children chaired by the Vice President with Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs (officially mandated for protection of children) as the Deputy Chair. The Office of Attorney General, Ministries of Justice, Education, Higher Education, Women’s Affairs, Education Information and Culture, and the Directorates of Central Statistics, Local Governance, Human Rights and International Affairs and the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association, amongst others, will serve as members.

Repositioning children and young people at the center of the national agenda

This launch was also significant as it comes in the wake of the just concluded sixth Loya Jirga’ (‘grand assembly’), a key element of the Afghanistan peace process, which was held from 29 April to 3 May in Kabul. The meeting was dominated by a strong call for an end to conflict, investment in human development, especially women’s empowerment, and prioritization of social services, for the stability and prosperity of Afghanistan and its next generation, the children.

The Law provides an opportunity to reposition children and young people at the center of the national discourse as right holders, drivers, influencers, partners and agents of change. Advancing the implementation agenda would be crucial going forward. Translating this opportunity into tangible benefits for children will be an uphill, but not insurmountable task, especially at a time when 3.7 million children remain out of school, 60 percent of whom are girls, 6 in 10 children aged 0-17 years are affected by multidimensional poverty, only 1 in 2 are fully immunized; 600,000 suffer from severe acute malnutrition and 2018 being one of the worst years with children being hardest hit by conflict and drought.

The mandate of UNICEF remains even more relevant today as whoever she is …wherever he lives, every child deserves a childhood. #ForEveryChild Every Right