United Nations agencies working in Afghanistan have urged all parties in the strife-torn nation to respect the right of children to life and education, including by allowing safe access for vaccinators and ensuring that students, teachers and schools are free from violence.
Today’s call comes just days after a suicide bombing in the south-eastern town of Spin Boldak killed a driver for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and two doctors working with the World Health Organization (WHO) on a polio vaccination programme.
So far this year 18 cases of polio have been reported in Afghanistan – one of four remaining countries in the world where the disease is endemic. Of those, 16 cases were reported in the south and two in the east, both areas where insecurity has hindered access for vaccinators.
“Continued insecurity has greatly challenged our vaccination efforts,” Tahir Mir, who works with WHO’s Polio Eradication Initiative, told a news conference in Kabul today.
Dr. Mir added that last weekend’s killing will not prevent UN agencies and the Afghan Ministry of Health from continuing its efforts, and urged all actors to allow immunizations to take place next week from 21 to 23 September, to coincide with the annual observance of the International Day of Peace.
The goal is to vaccinate 1.8 million newborns and children under the age of five over the three-day period. “The polio eradication mission will continue… This is probably the best way to honour our colleagues,” he said.
The head of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Afghanistan said she was confident that the country was close to eliminating the scourge. “If we have the days of tranquillity we are confident we can finish the job of eradication of polio in Afghanistan. It is within reach,” said Catherine Mbengue.
UNICEF and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are also urging that children, teachers, schools and literacy centres in Afghanistan be protected against all kinds of violence, she added.
UNESCO’s mission, together with other UN agencies and development partners, is to promote education as a fundamental human right and to improve the quality of education, according to the agency’s representative in Afghanistan.
“But today in Afghanistan education is at risk,” stated Shigeru Aoyagi, who noted that more than 230 students and teachers were killed and around 250 schools were attacked by militants during the past three years.
Both agencies stressed that the sanctity of schools must be respected, the lives of students and teachers must be protected, and the schools must not be used by any parties to the conflict for operations or political reasons.