The United Nations envoy for war-affected children, currently on an official visit to Afghanistan, has stressed that investing in the country’s youth is key to consolidating peace.
“The future cannot be guaranteed without giving hope, a positive role, participation and constructive activities to young people and children in terms of development of the country,” Olara Otunnu, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters in Kabul on Sunday. “In terms of long-term consolidations, sustaining of peace, it is crucial that we don’t lose a moment in investing in young people and making them the actors who can guarantee the future that this country needs.”
Mr. Otunnu described the devastating effects felt by children following Afghanistan’s decades of conflict. “The young people of this country are among those who have suffered unbelievably in the context of over 20 years of brutal war, isolation and deprivation,” he observed. Indicators of their plight included the fact that Afghanistan has more than 1 million orphans and more than 2 million displaced children.
As one of the world’s most mine-infested countries, Afghanistan had some 70,000 landmine victims – an estimated half of them children. “That is dramatic,” Mr. Otunnu observed. Children, especially girls, had also long been deprived of an education, leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets or in jobs. “Some young people who have been enticed into being associated with fighting groups in various capacities,” he added.
Some 25 per cent of all Afghan children died before their fifth birthday, while around 50 per cent of all children suffered from some degree of malnutrition, according to the envoy.
“All of this indicates the magnitude of the impact and the suffering that children and young people, generations of them, have had,” he said, stressing the need for a concerted international response. “We make sure that we are helping to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan people themselves within the family, within the communities, the Government, civil society organizations… to take care of the children and youth of Afghanistan,” he said. “Unless we can do that, a good deal of what we are about will come to little.”