H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations
At the Third Committee
Of the 65th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
On Agenda Item 64
“Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset, please allow me to thank the Secretary-General for his recent reports on the rights of children. I would like to further express my appreciation for the report of the
Special Representatives of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Violence Against Children.
In Afghan tradition, each child is considered to be a blessing. The government of
Afghanistan’s continued efforts to strengthen national policy to promote and protect the rights of children reflect the Afghan value of honouring our children, which is pitted in the very roots of our culture.
Sadly, we continue to face challenges to protecting the rights of Afghan children due to the grave impacts of thirty years of war, destruction and terrorism. Their lives are all too often defined by the ongoing violence and danger, which have been the backdrop of their entire existences. Not only have the children of Afghanistan endured the harsh physical effects of war such as serious injuries, disabilities, hunger, dehydration, lack of medical care, and devastatingly, even death; but they must face the detrimental psychological effects of growing up in wartime, which result from witnessing horrendous acts of violence, losing parents and loved ones, post-traumatic stress, and living in constant fear and poverty.
Despite all this, the resilience of the children of Afghanistan shines through. The children of our country yearn for their educations. Enrollment rates in schools have increased to 71% this year. Around 37% of the 7 million Afghan students are girls. Merely ten years ago, under the Taliban, girls were not allowed to go to school and were forbidden from working. Today Afghan boys and girls have equal access to education. 4,500 new schools have been built in the past 8 years, over 22 million textbooks have been delivered, and the number of teachers has grown exponentially. We must continue our efforts to address the gender gap in literacy as well as in education in rural areas and in higher education, but it is certain that we have come a long way toward improving access and gender equality in education.
Afghanistan has made efforts to improve access to healthcare for its children. Basic healthcare in Afghanistan has increased from 9% coverage of the population in 2003 to nearly 90% this year. Polio has been nearly eradicated in Afghanistan, and our national immunization campaign is in full swing. Infant and under five mortality rates have improved significantly in the last year. However, we still have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and 50% of our children remain underweight and under-nourished. Going forward, we must take into account the link between women’s education, maternal health, and children’s health and mortality.
The issue of children’s rights and well-being are inextricably linked to security. The main challenge to upholding international standards of children’s rights in Afghanistan lies in the danger of those who do not recognize the importance of the rights of children. Hundreds of Afghan schools have been burned or destroyed by terrorist groups. Disrupting access to schools has been a major element of Taliban strategy. Just a few months ago, deadly nerve gases were released in Afghan schools, poisoning hundreds of innocent students and teachers, and targeting girls. We believe the Taliban are responsible for these horrendous attacks. The Taliban’s targeting of young students as well as their use of children for suicide bombings and recruitment of children as listed in the report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict from 13 April 2010, reflects their disregard for international standards of children’s rights, and in fact the tradition of Afghan culture itself which recognizes the preciousness of each and every child’s life.
The government of Afghanistan will continue to assist the Secretary-General’s efforts to protect schools as zones of peace through monitoring and reporting mechanisms for these violations against children.
In a war-torn country like Afghanistan, a major impediment to protecting children’s rights is the challenge of enforcing rule of law. Issues such as fighting impunity and addressing grave acts of violence, or sexual abuse take time and need the support of the international community in order to maintain security in the country throughout the process.
The government of Afghanistan holds strong to its enduring commitment to protecting the rights of children under our constitution, and by international conventions and agreements to which we are a party, such as Security Council resolutions 1612 and 1882, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two optional protocols. We have supported the recent creation of monitoring and reporting mechanisms, and further support UNAMA’s addition of Child Protection Officers on staff, and the inclusion of child protection issues in the mandates of UNAMA and ISAF. We appreciate deeply the generous assistance we have received from the international community in supporting our relentless efforts to promote the protection of children’s rights and needs, as mapped out in our National Strategy on Children at Risk.
I am pleased to report that we have implemented a high-level Steering Committee of all relevant ministries and authorities of the government to interact with the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting, to develop an action plan for effective and timely responses to problems faced by children in armed conflict. Furthermore, the government created a Commission to oversee the needs of children and juveniles, and we are currently working with civil society and religious leaders to address sexual violence, which is contrary to both national law and Islamic values.
The efforts we put forth toward helping children are an investment in the future of our countries and world. Today, we reaffirm our commitment to creating an environment in which all children can move beyond the struggle to survive violence, overcome poverty, or fight for their health and educational opportunities, and can excel through realizing their human potential.