Gains for Afghanistan’s children imperilled by recent violence – UNICEF

25 October 2007 – Violence, a decaying health system and unabated attacks on schools in Afghanistan are combining to hamper progress for the country’s young people, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

The agency’s “Child Alert Afghanistan” report, launched in Geneva and Kabul, is based on the findings of Martin Bell, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies, who made a a two-week trip to Afghanistan in July and August.

“Despite a multitude of plans and proposals, projects and partners, and the support of many countries working to bring peace and progress to Afghanistan, I have witnessed a spike in insecurity that is causing more and more schools to close and more and more children to be killed,” said Mr. Bell.

“Families, especially in the South, are caught in the middle of this crossfire, out of reach of humanitarian assistance. Simply put, it is make or break time for Afghanistan’s children.”

As conflict engulfs large parts of Afghanistan, Child Alert underscores the need to pull together the security necessary to allow children to go to school. Forty-four school attacks occurred in the first six months of 2007. Girls’ schools and at times girls themselves are targeted, stalling or reversing progress in female education made since the fall of the Taliban regime, and causing attendance to drop significantly in secondary school.

Health workers lack access to over 40 per cent of the country, and even those areas that can be reached are under constant threat, according to the report. It argues strongly for greater efforts to address the high maternal mortality rate in Afghanistan, where more than 60 women died daily in 2005 from pregnancy-related causes, while nearly 900 children under five died every day in 2006.

“Being a child in Afghanistan means waking every morning unsure if your walk to school will come under gunfire,” Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF’s Country Representative, said at the report’s launch in Geneva. “It means perhaps growing up without a mother because she died in the one of the most dangerous countries in the world to give birth.”

On the positive side, the report finds that the UNICEF-supported polio eradication campaign achieved progress; new cases drop from 31 in 2006 to 11 so far this year. More than 15,000 vaccinators have visited the whole country as part of the National Immunization Days organized by UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Public Health to reach 7.3 million children.

UNICEF working to help the children of Afghanistan through various initiatives, but the agency’s $16.7 million appeal has come up 43 per cent short of its target.

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