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European Commission, European Union and UNICEF reaffirming Afghan child rights

© UNICEF/2009/Walther
Signatories to the Declaration (from left): Dr. Hansjörg Kretschmer, Head of the European Commission Delegation to Afghanistan; Ettore Francesco Sequi, European Union Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan; and H.E. Svante Kilander, Ambassador of Sweden to Afghanistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 8 December 2009 – Representatives for the European Commission, the European Union and UNICEF came together late last month to sign a joint Declaration that reaffirmed the importance of child rights in Afghanistan. The conference was part of the month-long worldwide celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

“In line with the global movement of uncountable stakeholders for children, and on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the most important human-rights treaty in history, the European Union and UNICEF sign today a Declaration, which reiterates our commitment to work together,” UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue said in her address to conference attendees on 22 November.

UNICEF and the European Union (EU) are working closely together to ensure that the best interests of children are a primary concern for all across the globe. Earlier this year, the European Union's leadership contributed to the UNICEF flagship report ‘The State of the World’s Children’, elaborating on the impact the Convention has had on the development of the European Union’s internal and external policy on children’s rights.

The UNICEF-EU partnership for the CRC is particularly relevant in Afghanistan, where numerous children continue to be innocent victims of conflict and poverty.

‘A very young population’
This has been a challenging year for Afghanistan’s people, and particularly so for its children. Half of the country’s population is under the age of 18 – some 15 million young people – and of these, roughly 5 million are under the age of five.

“Afghanistan has a very young population,” said European Union Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ettore Francesco Sequi, one of four signatories to the Declaration. “If the present demographic indicators continue, in 10 to 15 years, 75 per cent of the population will be younger than 18. Therefore it is extremely important to stress the sense of urgency. If we do not act now, we will lose a generation. And we cannot afford that.”

During the first 10 months of 2009, more than 2,000 Afghan civilians lost their lives due to violence – 200 more than last year and 700 more than in 2007. And many of these were children who never had the chance to know a life without violence.

Support for children
Only 6 per cent of Afghan children are properly registered at birth, 30 per cent are involved in child labour, and about 43 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18.

The country also has the world’s second highest under-five mortality rate. One in four children here dies before his or her fifth birthday, and one in two is underweight. About 80 per cent of the population has no access to safe drinking water, and only 30 per cent of households have access to improved sanitation facilities.

The need for humanitarian support will only increase with the upcoming winter season, yet access for humanitarian aid is limited by the ongoing conflict, and much of the country’s territory is currently inaccessible to UNICEF and its partners.

Focus on child rights
Afghanistan has ratified the CRC, as well as the Convention’s two Optional Protocols. In August, the government submitted its first report on progress achieved in implementing the CRC to the Committee on Child Rights in Geneva.

The preparation process and the committees’ recommendations will pave the way for future joint efforts of the Afghan Government and its partners in addressing the tremendous challenges that lie ahead.

“Whenever we deal with children and children’s rights, it is the child’s perspective which must be the guiding star,” stressed H.E. Svante Kilander, Ambassador of Sweden to Afghanistan. 

Changes for the better
And positive change is happening. School enrolment increased from fewer than 1 million children in 2001 to roughly 6 million in 2008. In 2001 there were – officially – no girls in school; today 1.78 million girls are being educated. Immunization coverage for measles and polio is around 80 per cent, and an increasing number of people have access to safe drinking water.

© UNICEF/2009/Walther
An Afghan girl at a literacy centre for street children.

“I must say that the innocent smiles of the children who sell trinkets to you in the street or who try to clean the screens off our cars deserve better, because they are the future of this country,” said Dr. Hansjörg Kretschmer, Head of the European Commission Delegation to Afghanistan, who joined UNICEF in signing the Declaration. “If we do not help them in an adequate way, the future of this country will be very bleak,” Dr. Kretschmer added.

The CRC has inspired numerous changes for the betterment of child protection and has altered the manner in which international organizations address the needs and rights of children. The treaty has provided a framework for the protection of children in armed conflict, leading to the adoption by UN Security Council of Resolution 1612 and a related monitoring and reporting mechanism of six serious child rights violations. The resolution and monitoring mechanisms have been operational in Afghanistan since 2006.

“The Declaration invites all of you to join this movement,” said Ms. Mbenge. “We must work collectively for and with children, to create a world fit for children here in Afghanistan and throughout the world. We can change the world, but we must choose to do so.”



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