18 May 2023Humanitarian Aid
Roughly 90 per cent of the population in Afghanistan is on the brink of poverty “and children bear the brunt of it,” the Representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the country, Fran Equiza, told journalists in New York on Thursday.
“Because, in what is a deeply troubled country – grappling with humanitarian catastrophe, climate related disasters, and egregious human rights abuses – too many people have forgotten that Afghanistan is a children’s rights crisis,” he said, warning that the situation is getting worse.
Young lives at risk
This year, some 2.3 million Afghan boys and girls are expected to face acute malnutrition. Of this number, 875,000 will need treatment for severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.
Furthermore, around 840,000 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are likely to experience acute malnutrition, jeopardising their ability to give their babies the best start in life.
Mr. Equiza added that although fighting has mostly stopped, decades of conflict mean that every day, children’s rights are violated “in the most appalling ways”.
He said Afghanistan is among the most “weapons-contaminated countries” in the world, and most of the casualties are children.
He cited preliminary data which suggests that 134 children were killed or maimed by explosive devices between January and March of this year.
“This is the reality of the escalating danger faced by Afghan children as they explore areas that were previously inaccessible due to fighting,” he said.
“Many of those killed and maimed are children collecting scrap metal to sell. Because that’s what poverty does. It compels you to send your children to work – not because you want to, but because you have to.”
Trapped in child labour
Meanwhile, roughly 1.6 million Afghan children – some as young as six – are trapped in child labour, working in dangerous conditions just to help their parents put food on the table.
“And where education used to be a symbol of hope, children’s right to learn is under attack,” Mr. Equiza added.
“Girls across Afghanistan have been denied their right to learn for over three years now – first, due to COVID-19 and then, since September 2021, because of the ban on attending secondary school. I don’t need to tell you of the impact of these absences on their mental health.”
Staying and adapting
He underlined UNICEF’s commitment to stay and deliver for the women and children in Afghanistan, where it has had a presence for nearly 75 years.
“We’re adapting to the fast-changing realities on the ground, finding solutions to reach the children that need us the most, while ensuring that Afghan women employed by UNICEF can continue their invaluable contribution to our work for children,” he said.
With needs growing every day, he called for greater support from the international community, noting that UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children Appeal is only 22 percent funded.