UN official urges special measures to help war-affected Afghan children

UN official urges special measures to help war-affected Afghan children

The well-being and rehabilitation of war-affected Afghan children must be central to any international response to the situation in their country, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict said today.

"In order to break the decades-old cycle of conflict and ensure sustainable peace, it is imperative to address the factors of despair, alienation, and radical indoctrination of children and youth," Olara A. Otunnu told a press conference in New York. "This must be the last generation of Afghan children to experience war."

The Special Representative said after over 20 years of war in Afghanistan, most of the country's children had grown up in the midst of violence, death, deprivation, lack of education and despair. He cited alarming statistics about their plight, including the fact that 25 per cent of Afghan children died before the age of five, 50 per cent suffered from malnutrition, and an estimated 2 million had fled their homes. Fifty thousand street children in Kabul were the primary income earners for their households.

Mr. Otunnu called on donors to provide immediate humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable children in need of water, food, shelter and healthcare, noting that an estimated 1.7 million young Afghans were at risk of freezing or starvation this winter. "I also appeal to the donor community to prepare for long-term rehabilitation for war-affected children, and to commit resources for the recovery and development of Afghanistan," he stated.

Mr. Otunnu expressed deep concern about the large numbers of child soldiers in Afghanistan and reports of increasing conscription of young persons below the age of 18, by both the Taliban and Northern Alliance forces. "We must mobilize all levels of international pressure to end this," he stated.

The Special Representative said his office is working in close collaboration with other partners to integrate the protection and rights of children in all peacemaking and peace-building actions in Afghanistan. As part of this effort, Mr. Otunnu said he has been holding consultations with Lakhdar Brahimi, the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Afghanistan.