Following a mission to Afghanistan, the United Nations envoy dealing with children and armed conflict issues, has welcomed the Government's recommitment to fully implementing its plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children in the national security forces.
“The political will and progress I have seen on the ground are encouraging. The Government’s commitment will be instrumental to turn the page on the recruitment and use of children in the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF),” stated Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, in a press release.
Ms. Zerrougui travelled to Afghanistan from 13 to 17 February to assess the situation of children affected by the armed conflict and to engage with authorities and partners on the protection of boys and girls. She met with President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah, Vice President Danish, and key ministers, as well as with the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the diplomatic community and UN and non-governmental organization partners.
The Special Representative commended the launch of national age assessment guidelines as well as the Presidential decree criminalizing the recruitment and use of children in the ANSF, and stressed that effective implementation and enforcement of these tools are critical to prevent recruitment and use.
Ms. Zerrougui recognized progress made to end underage recruitment in the Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA), but raised concern regarding the lack of oversight of recruitment processes for the Afghan Local Police (ALP). Further, noting the large increase in the number of UN verified cases of child recruitment in 2015 – mostly by the Taliban and other armed groups – she called for a general prohibition of underage recruitment and use.
In Herat, the UN official visited a child protection unit located in the ANP recruitment centre and heard about its positive impact to prevent underage recruitment. Welcoming the recent establishment of two new child protection units in Mazar-e-Sharif and Jalalabad, the Special Representative called for support to set up such units within ANP recruitment centres across the country’s 34 provinces.
Ahead of key donor conferences this year, she also urged the Government and its international partners to dedicate resources to support the full implementation of the Action Plan, including reintegration programmes, and to address root causes such as lack of opportunities for young people.
Rising child casualties
The United Nations estimates that in 2015, an average of 53 children were killed or injured every week, the highest number since 2009, when the Organization began systematically documenting casualties. The majority of child casualties was attributed to ground engagement between parties to conflict. There was also an increase in deaths and injuries attributed to airstrikes by Afghan and international forces.
“The current security situation is creating great challenges to protect children,” said the Special Representative. “I call on all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to take all precautions to reduce the impact of conflict on children.”
Health and education
During her meetings with the authorities, the Special Representative highlighted the importance of protecting schools and hospitals. She noted that schools, particularly girl schools, continue to close their doors due to insecurity and direct threats by non-state armed groups.
“I commend the Government for signing the Safe Schools Declaration. In the context of the challenges for access to education in Afghanistan, we must work together to ensure that schools are protected from attack and military use. The next generation could be compromised if we cannot protect children’s rights to health and education,” she said.
Protection of children
While in Herat, Ms. Zerrougui visited a juvenile rehabilitation centre, where she met boys and girls held in detention. She reminded authorities that children who have been associated with non-state armed groups should be treated primarily as victims and in accordance with juvenile justice standards. She raised concerns regarding the detention of children on national security-related charges in Parwan, a high security facility for adults.
“This is not a place for children. I raised this issue with the authorities. There should be no debate about the fact that juvenile justice standards should apply to these children,” said Leila Zerrougui.
She also discussed with authorities the practice of bacha bazi, or dancing boys, and is looking forward to the criminalization of this practice in forthcoming legislation.
The Special Representative concluded that strengthening the rule of law and addressing impunity are not only key elements to the success of the Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment of children, they are also essential to improve the protection of children in Afghanistan.