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Safe spaces for vulnerable populations in Afghanistan

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1257/Rich
A police officer with the Afghan National Police stands outside the UNICEF-assisted Spin Boldak Health Centre in Kandahar Province, near the border with Pakistan.

By David Koch

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, 26 February 2009 – It is every child’s right to be protected from violence, abuse, exploitation and neglect. Tragically, thousands of children in Afghanistan face these injustices every day. 

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The international community faces major challenges in reaching Afghanistan’s most vulnerable populations due to ongoing conflict and instability in many areas. Marked progress has been made in the country, however.

Child Protection Action Networks have been established in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces to monitor, report on and respond to child rights violations. Other achievements include the development of Youth Information and Contact Centres, legal aid for children and strengthened coordination with government programmes. 

By collaborating with sister UN agencies and Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, UNICEF also has set up a mechanism to monitor and report grave child rights violations in armed conflict.

A place to be a child

UNICEF’s Child Protection programme develops and implements policies to safeguard women and children from violence, exploitation and abuse – and to protect those who are in detention, caught in armed conflict, working and living on the street, separated from their families or forced into child labour or early marriage.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-1177/Noorani
A boy holds up a child protection brochure warning of the dangers of sexual exploitation, while other boys relax behind him in the yard of a juvenile detention centre in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad.

One of the few female members of the Afghan National Assembly, Fareeba Kakar of Kandahar, called for a cultural shift to advance the status of women.

“Girls get married at 15 or 16, which poses a vital danger to their development,” she said. “In my opinion, we have to start an education campaign for men – to change their mentality – through mullahs in the mosques. The mullahs should explain to their congregation the importance of the rights of women and children according to Islamic teachings.”

In line with these initiatives, UNICEF advocates for universal birth registration, stronger monitoring of abuse, and education and psychosocial programmes for children affected by armed conflict. Mine-risk awareness training in schools helps children learn to protect themselves from the danger of unexploded ordnance, such as cluster bombs. ‘Safe play’ areas at schools provide a secure place for carefree interaction – a place to be a child.

Literacy as a key to safety

A literate society creates a safer environment for women and children. Yet in Afghanistan, the literacy rate for people aged 15 to 24 is 49 per cent for males and only 18 per cent for females.

UNICEF supports women’s literacy initiatives and sponsors Behaviour Change Committees to promote a peaceful, literate society. Youth Information and Contact Centres distribute crucial information to young people, encouraging and facilitating their participation in shaping the future of their country.

All of these initiatives are already showing results. Wais Ahmad, a 13-year-old from Heart, has published his own magazine to advocate for young people’s rights. “It’s my goal to help solve the problems of young people my age,” he said. “I hope that we will have a developed and prosperous Afghanistan, where young people themselves can develop their talents and serve the country.”

UNICEF’s achievements are made possible through partnerships with government, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, donors and supporters. UNICEF and its partners are on the ground every day, working with communities, children and young people to create a safer, more just Afghanistan.




UNICEF correspondent Jane O’Brien reports on UNICEF’s Child Protection Programme in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
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