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Conflict threatens access to children by humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan

UNICEF Image: Afghanistan
© UNICEF Afghanistan/2008
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy (left) and UNICEF's Director of Emergency Programmes Louis-Georges Arsenault during their five-day tour of Afghanistan.

KABUL, Afghanistan, 8 July 2008 – Last week, the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and UNICEF's Director of Emergency Programmes, Louis-Georges Arsenault, completed a five-day tour of Afghanistan.

The objective of the mission was to inaugurate the monitoring of grave violations committed against children affected by armed conflict in the country. During a press conference at the end of the visit, the delegation urged all parties to stop recruiting children in the fighting forces and decried the use of children as suicide bombers. 

The delegation visited Kabul, Jalalabad and Gardez. They met with the President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai and other ministers of government, as well as the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, Operation Enduring Freedom forces and others.

Mr. Arsenault was UNICEF’s Representative in Afghanistan from 1998 to 2001. This was his first visit to the country in seven years.

Access for humanitarian agencies

Mr. Arsenault emphasized the need to address the Afghanistan’s shrinking areas of humanitarian access, particularly in its southern and eastern regions. He asked all parties in conflict areas to give access to humanitarian agencies.

“The most fundamental principle is that we have access to children everywhere in the country,” Mr. Arsenault said.

Another issue of concern was the detention of children in military facilities for alleged association with armed groups.

“Afghan civil society is particularly concerned about what has been called the ‘Bacha-bazi’ system, or practice of young boys associated with military commanders,” said Ms. Coomaraswamy.  “This practice has to be eradicated as it is against international humanitarian law.”

Gains made in education

One success story for Afghanistan has been the high number of children enrolled in school.

But while Afghanistan made tremendous progress in education in 2007, there were still 228 school attacks, resulting in 75 deaths and 111 injuries  As of this month, nearly 85 further school attacks have resulted in ten deaths and four injuries. Mr. Arsenault has called this “a very alarming trend.”

In September 2007, almost 200 schools in five provinces were closed due to security-related threats. In March 2008, over 6 million children attended schools in the rest of the country.

UNICEF supports formal schools as well as community–based schools in order to reach children in remote areas of the country.

‘Days of Tranquility’

Afghanistan is one of four countries in the world still plagued by polio, and most cases are being reported from areas suffering from high levels of violence. 

In the context of planning for a national Peace Day on 21 September, Mr. Arsenault put forward the call for ‘Days of Tranquillity,’ asking all actors to respect a truce so that children in conflict-affected areas can be vaccinated against polio.

Many humanitarian agencies working in these areas cannot monitor projects directly and have to rely on third parties for verification of aid activities. In southern Afghanistan, UNICEF has partnered with eight non-governmental organizations to help monitor UNICEF-assisted activities and help with the distribution of emergency supplies.




UNICEF’s Director of the Office of Emergency Programmes, Louis-Georges Arsenault, speaks about his first visit to Afghanistan since 2001.
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