Geneva Palais briefing note on the situation of children in Afghanistan

Situation for children in Afghanistan 'dire' with violence and bloodshed a 'daily occurrence', warns UNICEF

27 November 2018
A boy stands among rubble, Afghanistan
UNICEF Afghanistan/2018/Mohammadi

GENEVA, 27 November 2018 - This is a summary of what was said by Alison Parker, UNICEF Chief of Communication in Afghanistan – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

2019 will mark 40 years of conflict in Afghanistan – four decades that have left a terrible impact on the country’s children. This year, 2018, has been especially challenging: a spike in violence, unprecedented levels of drought and food insecurity, increased poverty and fledgeling social service systems are taking a disproportionate toll on children. Today:

  • Some 6 million people need humanitarian assistance, over half of whom are children.
  • Over 3 million children are out of school 60 per cent of whom are girls.
  • Severe acute malnutrition among children is among the highest globally with about half a million children affected.
  • The practice of child marriage is around 35 per cent
  • Immunisation coverage is only 46 per cent and in some districts, as low as 8%.

And it is getting worse. Children are paying the price in terms of the impact on their education, health, mental and physical well-being, their lives and future.

Violence and bloodshed are a daily occurrence.  A father told me that when he asked his four-year-old son what he would like him to bring home from work, the child did not ask for ice cream, chocolate, toys or games – just that he wanted him to come back home safely.  That has become the greatest wish of every family and child today in Afghanistan.

Some 5,000 children were killed or maimed in 2017 and the first 3 quarters of 2018. 

Additionally, increasing insecurity and a significant rise in school attacks puts almost two decades of progress at risk for Afghan children.  181 schools were attacked between January and September 2018, more than double the 82 schools attacked during the same period in 2017.  Over 1,200 schools are closed due to insecurity, meaning close to 600,000 students have been deprived of their rights to education.

The situation is exacerbated by what has been described as the worst drought in decades with some 2 million people affected, over half of whom are children.

The drought has exacerbated the practice of child marriage affecting at least 161 children (155 girls & 6 boys) from drought-affected population in Badghis and Herat provinces.  The key drivers of child marriage are the loss of assets and livestock, resulting in even heavier family debts. Some families have been forced to make a tough choice between subjecting the entire family to starvation or giving up one or more children into marriage and/or servitude to the creditors.

Furthermore, the number of children suffering severe acute malnutrition levels is expected to hit the 600,000 mark by the end of the year and over 100, 000 school-aged children have been affected by the drought.

The situation for children is dire and the needs are huge.  Right now, $US 9 million is urgently needed meet live-saving interventions especially water, education and child protection.

As leaders converge in Geneva for the Conference on Afghanistan we once again make an urgent plea for an end to violence. UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict to adhere to and respect humanitarian principles, ensure the safety and protection of all children and guarantee their access to quality basic services.

We owe it to them. Children must never pay the price with their lives, health, education and future.

In response to the drought, UNICEF has:

  • screened close to 20,000 children for acute malnutrition and provided treated over 10,000 severely acutely malnourished children through 21 mobile health teams within the camps in Herat and Badghis
  • vaccinated over 61,000 children against measles
  • reached some 500,000 people with water and sanitation facilities - UNICEF continues to implement durable solutions through regular WASH programmes, and is reaching over 33,000 drought-affected people in five districts of Badghis province.
  • reached over 18,000 children with psycho-social support services and 25,290 community members through awareness raising activities.  This was achieved through 22 CFS (8 in Herat and 14 in Badghis),
  • Out of the children identified as being married or promised into marriage (ref. the table above) 90% of them (145 out of 161 children), girls aged 4-15 years, have been referred and have attended the Child-Friendly Spaces and Temporary Learning Spaces. For betrothed children whose families are remaining in the IDP settlements (some have moved back to their places of origin) social workers are negotiating the “release” from the marriage contracts and/or alternative ways of depth repayment.
  • Furthermore Community-based child protection structures – Child Protection Action Networks (CPANs), provincial, district and community-based social workers, Mobile Child Protection teams, Legal Clinics – are mapping the IDP families, identifying the ones most vulnerable and at highest risk of child marriage (and other “negative coping mechanisms”, like child labour, unsafe migration, putting children as collateral for creditors, etc) and providing support. The case managers refer families for protective services, education, health, social protection (cash transfers), food allocation, distribution of winterization items, water distribution, community-based child-friendly spaces and adolescent “clubs”. Case managers also follow-up their families and mediate if child marriage starts being negotiated.
  • UNICEF has opened 20 Child-Friendly Spaces where throughout the day children from IDP communities can engage in safe, structured activities aimed at strengthening their resilience and providing psychosocial support. The same CFSs host adolescent "clubs” where adolescents are being equipped with life skills, covering issues such as problem-solving, communication, conflict resolution and self-esteem.

The extremely early child marriages or sale of children is symptom of a deeper and more complex social problem related to poverty, lack of employment and livelihoods and social norms; its solution lies in addressing the root causes that led to this displacement crisis in the first place, notably lack of livelihoods, lack of employment, high levels of poverty, drought and conflict. The solution requires intense efforts of several partners.

Media contacts

Marixie Mercado
Tel: +41 79 559 7172
Joe English
Tel: +1 917 893 0692

Additional resources

A woman walks holding hands with a boy, Afghanistan

Additional materials for media


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