Thank you, Mr. Foreign Minister, for your participation at this event and for the leading role of the Ambassador of Luxembourg, Sylvie Lucas. I would like to thank our esteemed friends Ms. Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative to the Secretary General, Mr. Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF, and Mr. Hervé Ladsous, Under Secretary General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations for their statements, and for their collective work to prevent the suffering of children in armed conflict in countries like mine and around the world. I am honored to speak at the launch of the Special Representative’s commendable campaign to end the recruitment and use of children by government security forces.
Children have suffered profoundly in Afghanistan as a result of over 30 years of violent conflict. War cast a shadow over their daily lives, cutting their childhoods short, subjecting them to violence, and leaving them without their families and loved ones.
Yet, while children have experienced indescribable anguish throughout Afghanistan’s long conflict, the nature of today’s wars and the tactics of terrorist groups have made the past several years particularly brutal for children.
War in Afghanistan left young boys and girls without support systems and forced them to become the main breadwinners for their families. Motivated by poverty, children in my country often try to join the national and local police or the army, even lying about their age so that they can serve. This is not a result of a systematic attempt by the government to recruit children, but rather a result of children’s desperation to provide for their own and their family’s livelihoods.
Understanding these awful circumstances, my government still affirms that child recruitment is unacceptable in all cases. Preventing children from joining security forces in Afghanistan has thus become a focus for my government, as it has for the international community.
To this end, the government of Afghanistan has taken strong measures to ensure that recruitment and use of children by our security forces ends completely, among them I can name:
In 2006, the Ministry of the Interior set the age requirement for recruitment at 18-35 years, and has since issued identity cards to verify the ages of those enlisting. Relatedly, the Ministry of Justice enacted a criminal law imposing a penalty of 5-10 years in prison for the falsification of identity cards. In addition, since 2010 a series of strong Presidential and Ministerial decrees have been issued condemning the recruitment of children in both the Afghan National Security Forces and the Afghan National and Local Police. Now both the Local and National Police have high-level focal points working to limit recruitment. Also, Afghanistan created the first ever Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee to implement the 2011 Action Plan to halt child recruitment, signed with the UN.
These successes, Excellencies, do not negate the tremendous challenges ahead of us. We know that much progress is yet to be achieved. While our government is working steadily to protect children, progress thus far has only been possible through the committed support of our international partners. We need their technical expertise and funding- in addition to their advocacy- to prevent recruitment and to end this scourge. We call on our international partners to continue their support so that this campaign is no longer applicable to our country.