MAZAR-E-SHARIF - At a UN-backed event in Mazar, the capital of Balkh province, participants underscored the pressing need for stronger measures to protect children from harm in Afghanistan’s armed conflict.
During the day-long event, community leaders, human rights advocates, civil society representatives and provincial authorities discussed the reality of children being killed, maimed, abused or recruited in the ongoing conflict. They called for additional mechanisms to protect children from harm, not only in the northern province, but also across Afghanistan.
“More work needs to be done to stop the recruitment of children in the Afghan forces and insurgent groups,” said one participant, a community leader from Balkh’s Chimtal district.
Anti-government elements continue to recruit and use children, including for combat and support roles. In addition, while significant progress has been made by the government concerning the formal recruitment of children into the Afghan national security forces, use remains an ongoing problem, including for sexual purposes.
Moreover, in the ongoing conflict, thousands of children have been killed or maimed during the past decade. In the first nine months of 2019, 631 children were killed and 1,830 injured, according to UNAMA’s latest report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.
Displacement is also a serious issue. Across Afghanistan, thousands of children have been displaced along with their families because of the conflict, with many now living in poverty with limited access to employment or essential services such as health and education. The situation in remote and rural districts is particularly dire, with children being more susceptible to recruitment by armed forces and insurgent groups due to poverty and marginalization.
In this context, the government and its international partners have moved forward on initiatives designed to protect children from harm in Afghanistan.
In 2011, the government and the UN signed a Joint Action Plan for the Prevention of Underage Recruitment. In 2014, the government’s Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Children and Armed Conflict endorsed a 15-point roadmap toward compliance with the action plan, drafted jointly by the Afghan government and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF and UNAMA.
In 2015, the government enacted a law criminalizing the recruitment and use of children in the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. Afghanistan’s revised Penal Code, which entered into force in February 2018, criminalizes the recruitment and use of children in military units and also criminalizes bacha bazi, a harmful practice whereby men use boys for sexual entertainment.
The event in Balkh, which was organized by UNAMA’s Mazar regional office, concluded with participants jointly recommending the full enforcement of these measures along with additional, stronger mechanisms for protecting the rights of children, especially those most at risk in rural and remote areas.
UNAMA works with various institutions and individuals, including community leaders, youth groups, women and local media stations to create platforms – using radio, social media and television – for Afghans to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting their communities.
In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.