Afghanistan - A Children’s Crisis: UNICEF Afghanistan Representative Fran Equiza's remarks at the Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
NEW YORK, 18 May 2023 - "A few weeks ago, I visited a health clinic outside Kabul, replete with female health workers, and lines of mothers waiting patiently for nurses to vaccinate their babies. One mother trusted me to give polio drops to her baby girl. And when the nurse confirmed that her baby was now safe from polio, she smiled.
"I don’t speak Dari or Pashtu. But as a parent, I understand the unspoken language of relief.
"Across Afghanistan, there are nearly 16 million boys and girls, like my son and my daughters, like your sons and daughters, for whom that relief is out of reach.
"They wake up hungry. They go to bed hungry. They don’t have clean water to quench their thirst. Or soft blankets in which to sleep. They have become all too used to labouring at home, on the streets, in fields, in mines, and in shops. Too many live in fear of violence or early marriage. Too many are burdened by the weight of adult responsibility. Too many have been robbed of an education – their one hope of a better life.
"Because in what is a deeply troubled country, grappling with humanitarian catastrophe, climate-related disasters, and egregious human rights abuses, too many people have forgotten that Afghanistan is a children’s crisis.
"It’s a crisis that’s getting worse. Today, an estimated 90 per cent of Afghans are on the brink of poverty.
"Children bear the brunt of it.
"2.3 million children are expected to face acute malnutrition in 2023. 875,000 of them need treatment for severe acute malnutrition – a life-threatening condition.
"Also, this year, around 840,000 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are likely to experience acute malnutrition, jeopardising their ability to give their babies the best start in life.
"And although the fighting has, for the most part, stopped, decades of conflict mean that every day, children’s rights are violated in the most appalling ways. Afghanistan is one of the most weapons-contaminated countries in the world. Most of the casualties are children.
"Preliminary data suggests that between January and March this year, 134 children were either killed or maimed by explosive devices. This is the reality of the escalating danger faced by Afghan children as they explore areas that were previously inaccessible due to fighting.
"Many of those killed and maimed are children collecting scrap metal to sell.
"Because that’s what poverty does. It compels you to send your children to work -- not because you want to, but because you have to.
"Approximately 1.6 million children are trapped in child labour in Afghanistan. Children as young as six work in dangerous conditions to help their parents put a little food on the table. Bread. Beans. Potatoes.
"And where education used to be a symbol of hope, children’s right to learn is under attack. Girls across Afghanistan have been denied their right to learn for over three years now – first, due to COVID-19 and then, since September 2021, because of the ban on attending secondary school. I don’t need to tell you of the impact of these absences on their mental health.
"Despite the consequential challenges, including the recent unacceptable bans and directives targeting Afghan women, UNICEF is there for every child. We’re committed to staying and delivering for the women and children of Afghanistan, just as we have for nearly 75 years. We’re adapting to the fast-changing realities on the ground, finding solutions to reach the children that need us the most, while ensuring that Afghan women employed by UNICEF can continue their invaluable contribution to our work for children.
"In the first three months of this year, for example, thanks to our courageous staff, especially our national female staff, the NGOs without whom we couldn’t reach communities, our donors and partners:
- 7.5 million people benefitted from UNICEF-supported health facilities.
- 600,000 boys and girls learned in community-based education classes – 55 per cent of whom are girls.
- More than 140,000 children under five received treatment for severe acute malnutrition.
- And 86,000 households received humanitarian cash transfers.
"But the needs grow every day.
"And UNICEF's Humanitarian Action for Children appeal is only 22 per cent funded. It’s May. Halfway through the year. Practically, that means we cannot support all the children we need to support.
"So, we’re urging the international community to rally together and help us alleviate the suffering of children, women and families in Afghanistan. This plight is not of their making.
"Together, we can – and so we must -- make their lives healthier and more hopeful. But we need urgent help now.
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) works with UNICEF Country Offices in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to help to save children’s lives, defend their rights, and help them fulfil their potential. For more information about UNICEF’s work for children in South Asia, visit www.unicef.org/rosa and follow UNICEF ROSA on Twitter and Facebook.