One of the best ways to secure a more promising future for war-ravaged Afghanistan is through a major investment in its youth, the United Nations envoy for war-affected children said today in New York.
While the international donor community has responded generously to the situation in Afghanistan, Olara Otunnu, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters that he was appealing for donors to "stay the course" and invest significantly in the country's children and young people.
During his visit from 22 to 28 July, Mr. Otunnu said, he had been heartened by the extraordinary resilience and thirst for knowledge among Afghanistan's children and youth. He called on international donors and the Afghan Government to give top priority to ensuring investments in education, nutrition and basic medical care for Afghan boys and girls.
As he toured the country - including stops in Kabul, Kandahar and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border - Mr. Otunnu visited schools, orphanages, hospitals, prisons and camps for internally displaced persons. At every turn, he said, he sensed that Afghan young people were longing to participate more actively in the process of rebuilding peace and healing in their country.
In order to build on that palpable spirit of hope, and to bolster the children's agenda within the country as well as internationally, Mr. Otunnu announced that a national conference for the children of Afghanistan - a "children's jirga" - was being planned, in collaboration with the Government, UN agencies, and local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs). He voiced hope that the conference would take place before the end of the year.
Describing the high price they had paid during more than two decades of war, Mr. Otunnu noted that one third of the children had lost one or both parents, 50 per cent had suffered from chronic malnutrition and about half of the country's 200,000 landmine victims were youngsters. He stressed that empowering the country's youth through education was the best way to prevent manipulation and radical indoctrination by militant groups.
"It seems to me that investing in children and youth is one of the best ways to turn a new page in Afghanistan," Mr. Otunnu said.