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Frontline Diary

24 May 2006: Signs of hope for children follow difficult weeks in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2004
UNICEF Communication Officer Edward Carwardine with children in Afghanistan.
By Edward Carwardine

The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated in recent months, increasing the danger faced by humanitarian workers. UNICEF Afghanistan Communication Officer Edward Carwardine reflects on the impact of insecurity and the recent loss of two colleagues.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 24 May 2006 – The last two weeks were difficult ones for us here in Afghanistan. On 12 May, we lost a UNICEF colleague and a partner from a non-governmental organization in an attack against a UNICEF vehicle returning from a routine monitoring mission in the west of the country. Another colleague was badly injured.

It was a sobering reminder of the challenges that still face communities in Afghanistan.

But amidst the grief came a ray of hope: As the news spread through the wires, our office received countless messages of support and comfort from friends across the globe. Just as the tragedy reminded us of the volatility of Afghanistan, so did these messages remind us that many people are committed to a brighter future for women and children in this country.

Support for children at risk

On 16 May, that commitment was further underlined with the launch of a new action plan designed to meet the needs of Afghanistan’s most vulnerable children – those who work on the streets and in the fields, find themselves married at an early age, fall into conflict with the law and are at risk from traffickers.

Endemic poverty has weakened families’ normal caring mechanisms, and resulted in them seeking drastic alternatives for their children. For example:

  • An estimated 80 per cent of children living in orphanages are believed to have at least one living parent
  • A fifth of primary school-age children are involved in some form of work
  • Nearly 40 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.
© UNICEF/HQ03-0406/Premfors
Two girls walk through the schoolyard of the Maleka Jalaly School in Herat, western Afghanistan. UNICEF estimates that some 1.2 million primary school-age girls are out of school and nearly 40 per cent of girls are married before the age of 18.

In the face of these statistics, the Government of Afghanistan has set out a clear framework for developing community- and family-based support for ‘at risk’ children – urging a consistent approach to care and recommending programmes ranging from family counselling services to income-generation initiatives.

Under the new strategy, community day-care centres are being considered as an alternative to institutional arrangements. And education and skills training are recommended to help adolescents improve employment prospects.

The strategy establishes a creative approach to caring for vulnerable children, combining support for children already at risk with efforts to tackle root causes. UNICEF has expressed its commitment to helping the government turn the plan into tangible action for children in the months ahead.

A sense of opportunity

In a few weeks time, with the support of UNICEF and others, another round of polio immunization will begin in the south of the country, where all six reported cases of the virus this year have been recorded. Thousands of volunteers from local communities will spend three days aiming to reach 2 million children.

Temperatures in the south at this time of the year exceed 40 degrees Celsius, and volunteers walk from house to house to cover every family in their area. It is an unenviable task, but one that is repeated several times throughout the year, as communities make their contribution to stamping out the crippling disease.

It is also another example of the determination that ordinary Afghans demonstrate every day to build a better future for their children.

I share these stories with you just to show that there remains real opportunity for children in Afghanistan, if we all play our part. That sense of opportunity, exemplified in so many different ways, gives us all confidence – even when faced by the tragedy that we have experienced in the last weeks.

On Monday, 15 May, the UN offices across Afghanistan lowered their flags to half-mast in a simple tribute to our fallen colleagues. Today, the UNICEF flag – and the message of hope for children that it represents – is flying proudly again all over the nation.



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