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On dawn of new Afghan parliament, UNICEF says children must come first

Parliamentarians urged to prioritise investments and polices that back children and mothers.

Kabul, 16 December 2005 – With an historic new Parliament scheduled to be inaugurated in Afghanistan on Monday 19 December, UNICEF is urging its newly elected members to ensure that children are top of the new assembly’s agenda.

Afghanistan has some of the worst development indicators in the world, and many Afghans are looking to the new National Assembly and provincial councils to focus on issues such as education, health care and economic regeneration.

In a letter to the 249 members of the Wolesi Jirga (the Lower House of the National Assembly), UNICEF Representative to Afghanistan, Bernt Aasen, highlighted the challenges facing the nation and appealed for their support to meet the needs of children. “More than 2 million primary school-age children are not enrolled in classes, of which more than half are girls, more than 600 children under the age of five die every day in Afghanistan because of preventable illnesses and at least 50 women die every day in Afghanistan because of complications in pregnancy and childbirth,” said Aasen.

Asking the new parliamentarians to make the development of women and children a priority for their term in office, Aasen added “UNICEF believes that sustained investments in core health and education programmes, focused on women and children at national, provincial and community level, will have a lasting impact on the future growth and development of Afghanistan. Healthy and educated children make a productive contribution to the prosperity of the country when they reach adulthood. Literate women enjoy a safer motherhood. These are amongst the core ingredients of a successful nation.”

The members of the lower house have also received specially prepared provincial fact sheets, compiled by UNICEF with support from UNFPA. The fact sheets identify specific challenges facing women and children in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, and recommend key policy actions to improve their status – including recruitment of more female teachers, promotion of integrated health care at community level and support for vulnerable families to reduce the incidence of child labour.

Recent estimates by UNICEF indicate that Afghanistan is 29 per cent worse off than the mean of the world’s least developed countries, while under-5 mortality rates are 40 times worse than the average of industrialized countries. While notable progress has been made over the last four years in rebuilding health and education programmes, UNICEF hopes that the new Parliament will redouble its efforts to give every child the best start in life, and every woman the best chance of a safe motherhood.

In January, UNICEF will begin a new three year programme of cooperation with the Government of Afghanistan, aimed at tackling the high rates of child and maternal mortality, and low enrolment of girls in school.

For more information, please contact:

Edward Carwardine, Head of Public Information
+93 (0) 799 60 7400

Mohammad Rafi, Assistant Communication Officer
+93 (0) 799 60 7403




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