|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference to Launch Report ‘Setting the Right Priorities: Protecting
Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Afghanistan’
A global network of child rights monitors today called on the Security Council to prioritize child concerns during its planned visit to Afghanistan, where it said more than 1,000 children had been killed in 2009 as a result of aerial bombings, night raids, landmines and other explosives.
Eva Smets, Director of Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, made the call during a Headquarters press conference to launch the report Setting the Right Priorities: Protecting Children Affected by Armed Conflict in Afghanistan, ahead of a Security Council debate on children and armed conflict scheduled for 16 June. She said that in 2009 Afghanistan had hit the world record for the most “attacks on education” by armed groups.
The attacks had destroyed school buildings and directly harmed pupils, teachers and other staff, she said, adding that other violations of children’s rights included their recruitment into armed conflict, sexual violence, and denial of humanitarian access and health services. In addition, about 1.5 million Afghan children were refugees in Pakistan or Iran, she said, noting that more than half of the approximately 160,000 internally displaced Afghans were children, who were thus especially vulnerable to child recruitment and sexual violence.
She said that the Watchlist — an international network of local and international non-governmental organizations working to influence decision-makers on child-protection issues — was pressing for greater child-protection capacity within the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), which needed to place more child-protection advisers within its ranks. The group was also recommending that the Afghan Government draw up an action plan to reduce violations of children’s rights, ensure that they were investigated and that victims and their families received adequate compensation. It was also calling on donors to prioritize child-protection concerns in their funding decisions, she added.
Accompanying Ms. Smets were Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Fazel Jalil, Deputy Country Director for Save the Children’s Afghanistan Programme, who called on the Government to prevent violence in schools, which had become prime targets for armed groups since they had been used as polling stations in the 2009 presidential election.
Ms. Coomaraswamy recalled having made similar recommendations during a visit to the country in February, emphasizing that the changing nature of warfare called for more discussion with non-State actors, who often made difficult negotiating partners. Stymied by the lack of access imposed by such groups, the humanitarian sector needed to do “a lot of thinking” on how to gain better access, she said, adding that, with military actors beginning to conduct humanitarian work, it had become much harder to ensure respect for humanitarians as neutral parties.
Expressing disappointment with the declaration agreed at the recent peace jirga, she said she had expected more child-protection provisions, noting that non-State actors had begun using children as suicide bombers. There were seven known cases of children being involved in suicide bombings in 2009, she added. Moreover, the more children were recruited into the ranks of armed groups, the greater were the numbers of child militants captured and detained, with the risk of their rights being further jeopardized in detention. She warned that bacha bazi — the practice of using boys as entertainment, which had been eradicated under the Taliban — a challenge unique to Afghanistan and different from those mentioned in Graça Machel’s Africa-focused 1996 report on children and armed conflict, had re-emerged, with many powerful people as the perpetrators.
Mr. Jalil, noting that Save the Children had been in Afghanistan since 1974, said the organization was calling on the Election Commission not to use schools as polling stations so as to prevent more violence against children. That call was especially pertinent given that parliamentary elections were set to take place in a few months’ time.
He recommended that the donor community and United Nations agencies involve everyday Afghans in their work as much as possible, since many knew the armed groups first hand and were in a position to engage in meaningful dialogue. In the past year, Save the Children had striven to improve school enrolment by easing the worries of parents who hesitated to send their children to school for fear that they would be harmed. At the moment, the number of students in school was 20 per cent lower than it had been before the 2009 presidential election.
Health clinics were sometimes used as polling stations as well, he said, noting that, with Afghanistan facing one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates, the donor community and United Nations agencies should urge the Government not to use those facilities for political purposes. He also called on the United Nations and other organizations to study cross-border smuggling involving the use of child smugglers, stressing the importance of international cooperation in protecting children in such situations.
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