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Press release

UNICEF praises Afghan child-soldier innovation

Government of Afghanistan continues to "set an agenda of peace" for Afghan children

NEW YORK/GENEVA, 23 September 2003 - UNICEF has hailed Afghanistan’s formal ratification of an international agreement to curb the recruitment of child soldiers.

At a United Nations ceremony tomorrow Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Afghanistan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, will proclaim the accession of Afghanistan to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that Afghanistan’s ratification sets a “shining example” for other countries, since it goes beyond age limit of 18 established by the Protocol.

“Afghanistan has chosen of its own volition to set the limit at 22 years of age for recruitment into the Afghan National Army,” said Bellamy. “It is a brave and symbolic step for a country that was mired in war for more than two decades, where children have not only traditionally been used as fighters, but have even led militia forces.”

“It spells the determination of the government of Afghanistan to set an agenda of peace, and to set it in stone as a legacy for the next generations.”

Bellamy also noted that the Afghan Government's steps towards accession to the Protocol have been taken in an environment where the issue of disarmament is highly charged. “The disarmament and demobilization process is a complex one in Afghanistan, but from early days the Government has been determined to push on with the legal structures necessary to protect children,” she said.

“And with its commitment to girls' education in the face of sporadic violent attacks, the government of Afghanistan continues to show that it has the best interests of Afghan children at the heart of its legislative and practical agenda.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai indicated his intention to stop the use of child soldiers in Afghanistan in August 2002, just months after his nomination as President of the Transitional Government. A series of legislative reforms followed, culminating in a presidential decree in May 2003 that prohibited the recruitment of children and young people under the age of 22 to Afghanistan’s new National Army.

The Optional Protocol is an international instrument that raises the age of recruitment to armed forces from 15 to 18 years of age and emphasizes that the reintegration and rehabilitation of children under the age of 18 formerly attached to fighting forces is the responsibility of the State.

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  •  There are 111 signatories to the Optional Protocol Treaty, and 59 Ratifications.
  •  At any one time, more than 300,000 children are involved as child soldiers in more than 30 conflicts around the globe.
  •  UNICEF is engaged in the demobilization and reintegration of thousands of Afghan children.
  • More than 4 million Afghan children are now in school. UNICEF’s Back-to-School campaigns drew more than a million girls into the education system.
  •  UNICEF is supporting the immunization of millions of Afghan children against polio, measles, and other major killers of children.
  • Thousands of schools are being targeted for rehabilitation, and for the installation of basic sanitary facilities.
  •  Through UNICEF support, Afghanistan will have salt iodization plants throughout the country by the end of next year.
  •  More than 700,000 Afghan women of child-bearing age were immunized against tetanus this year.
  • UNICEF is supporting the campaign to register all children under one year of age throughout Afghanistan.
  • Major UNICEF donors include (millions): Japan ($10.2), US ($4.5), Canada ($3), Germany ($0.8), Norway ($0.8), New Zealand ($0.8), Italy ($0.7), Sweden ($0.58), Australia ($0.55), Ireland ($0.55), Finland ($0.43) and UNICEF national committees.

For more information, please contact:

Chulho Hyun, UNICEF Media,
Kabul (+93(0) 702-78493

Edward Carwardine, UNICEF Media,
Kabul (+93 (0) 702-74729

Gordon Weiss, UNICEF Media,
New York (+1 212) 326-7426

Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Media,
Geneva (+41 22) 909- 5716




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