Senior UN officials urge greater protection for Afghan children’s rights

15 December 2008
Bo Asplund

Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan have called for greater efforts to improve the situation of children in the strife-torn nation, after a new report by the Organization revealed cases of recruitment by insurgents, sexual violence and continuing attacks on schools.

“The main findings of this report refer to cases of recruitment of children by illegal armed groups, for example, to use as suicide bombers,” Bo Asplund, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, told a news conference in Kabul today.

The report – by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to the Security Council on Afghanistan – comes just days after the Taliban allegedly used a 13-year-old boy to carry out a bombing against British troops operating in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province, killing three soldiers.

“The key thing that it demonstrates is the total disrespect of the fundamental rights of the child by the Taliban. This is unjustifiable under any circumstances and by any standards – you cannot force children to commit these kinds of acts,” said Mr. Asplund.

It also discusses the killing and maiming of children, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals where children are affected, and the denial of humanitarian access or difficulty in gaining humanitarian access to children in some cases.

He noted that between July 2007 and July 2008, there were 230 attacks on educational institutions that have been documented by the Ministry of Education and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), including the burning of school buildings and threats against students.

Mr. Asplund, who is also deputy head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), co-chairs a task force set up to monitor and address the situation of children and armed conflict, along with the Country Representative for UNICEF, Catherine Mbengue.

“All parties to the conflict must stop the use and recruitment of children,” Ms. Mbengue stated, noting that the report calls on the Afghan Government to develop effective age verification procedures and to introduce legislation to criminalize the recruitment of children.

The report also encourages the Afghan Government to design appropriate legal measures and programmes to increase the protection of children, particularly to prosecute those guilty of violating the basic rights of children.

In addition, the report requests that the Government design laws and programmes to prevent and address sexual violence against children, and to ensure that the voices of the victims are heard.

Ms. Mbengue stressed the need for everyone in the community to work together to protect children and their rights.

“All parties to the conflict must commit themselves to respect children’s rights. They must take immediate steps to turn into actions the recommendations of the Secretary-General’s report on Children and Armed Conflict,” she stated. “The children of Afghanistan deserve no less.”


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