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New country programme helps children achieve their rights in Afghanistan

© UNICEF Afghanistan/2010/Froutan
UNICEF Representative Catherine Mbengue and Mohammad A. Anwarzai of the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the signing of the UNICEF Country Programme Action Plan for 2010-2013, in Kabul.

By Farida Ayari

KABUL, Afghanistan, 4 March 2010 – UNICEF and the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently signed the new UNICEF Country Programme Action Plan for 2010-2013. The ceremony took place on 25 February at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was attended by Mohammad A. Anwarzai, the Head of the Afghan Government's United Nations Department, and UNICEF Representative in Afghanistan Catherine Mbengue.

Given the deteriorating security situation and recurrent natural disasters in the country, the programme aims to fast-track high-impact interventions that strike a balance between on-going development programming, emergency planning and response, and proactive approaches to access new areas – especially in disadvantaged communities. More than $400 million will be spent over the course of the four-year programme.

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

“We at UNICEF reiterate our pledge to fulfill our obligations,” said Ms. Mbengue. “We work tirelessly, doing our utmost to ensure that what is printed in the document we are signing with the Government of Afghanistan turns into reality for the children of this country.”

The rights of the child and the mother

One of the pillars of the Country Programme is the fulfilment of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which turned 20 last year. Afghanistan submitted its first report on the rights of the child several months ago.

The Country Programme supports the Government of Afghanistan in its efforts to realize the right of every child to survival, development, protection and participation. These goals are also echoed by the Afghan National Development Strategy, the United Nations Development Assistance Framework and the Millennium Development Goals.

The new Country Programme also emphasizes the empowerment of women and girls, as the well-being of children is closely linked to the status, well-being, knowledge and skills of females in society. Women are mothers, principal caregivers and major contributors to household production and income, so their health, education and their socio-economic status have a powerful influence on the welfare of the child.

Getting into communities

The second pillar of the Country Programme is integrating basic health, nutrition and hygiene programming – along with education and protection interventions – into communities.

Lastly, the third pillar is the strengthening of existing cross-border interventions and information exchange with UNICEF offices in neighbouring countries to more effectively conduct polio eradication, provide protection and support to returnees, and improve the security situation overall.

The situation of children in Afghanistan is dire; the country has the world’s highest under-five mortality rate. More than three-fourths of the population has no access to safe drinking water, and only 30 per cent of households have access to improved sanitation facilities.

Some 30 per cent of children are involved in child labour, and about 43 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18.

The new Country Programme aims to bring needed and lasting change to the children of Afghanistan and contribute to a consolidation of the peace and the reconstruction processes.



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