Commemorative High-level Plenary Meeting Devoted to the Follow-Up to the Outcome of the Special Session on Children

Statement of H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Permanent Representative to the United Nations
At the Commemorative High-level Plenary Meeting Devoted to the Follow-Up to the Outcome of the Special Session on Children
Mr. President,
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset, allow me to express my delegation’s appreciation for organizing this Commemorative High Plenary Meeting on a topic that requires special attention from the family nations represented in this noble organization; The Future of Our Children”.

The protection of the rights of the child remains a fundamental responsibility of the human community, requiring children to be raised in a healthy environment and ensuring their physical, psychological, social, emotional, cognitive and cultural development.

This value represents a high priority in a country like Afghanistan, where the devastating consequences of three decades of war has particularly affected the most vulnerable part of our population, namely children and women. During this period, the basic rights of Afghan Children have been undermined due to the vicious cycle of violence, poverty and lack of access to education and health facilities.

Since the end of 2001, despite facing many challenges in our state-building efforts, we have achieved substantial progress in addressing the rights of our children. We have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols in 2002 and included dispositions in our domestic law aimed to protect the rights of children. Improving the lives of our citizens and providing our children with a better and brighter future stands high among our policy objectives. We remain committed to address the plight of our children by implementing our Millennium Development Goals through the Afghanistan Compact and our interim National Development Strategy (I-ANDS).

Mr. President,

During the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children in 2002 it was recognized that building a World Fit for Children would be a major step in fulfilling the commitments of the Millennium Summit. The four major goals of the Plan of Action strongly reinforce the Millennium Declaration and the MDGs, all of which address and affect the rights of children. In the effort to achieve this noble task, we have submitted our first progress report covering the period 2002 – 2006. In this regard, we count on sustained financial assistance from our international partners to implement our national development strategy. We remain hopeful that a greater share of such assistance will be provided on the basis of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness.

Mr. President,

Allow me to briefly refer to some achievements in protecting and promoting the rights of our children and improving their socio-economic conditions.

In the area of education, close to 6 million children have returned to schools – 35% of which are girls. More than 3,500 schools have been built and new curriculum and textbooks have been developed for primary education. In addition, the number of teachers has increased seven-fold.

These figures mirror achievements made in the area of health. Our Ministry of Health continues to work diligently to implement nation-wide programs to improve the lives of mother’s and children. The rate of infant and maternal mortality has been reduced by 85,000 and 40,000 annually. In just September and October, more than one hundred thousand previously un-immunized children were vaccinated against Polio in southern Afghanistan. Distribution of the Basic Package of Health Services (BPHS), has improved coverage of basic health services from 9% in 2003 to 81% of the population this year. These include assistance in the form of maternal and new born health, child heath and immunization, public nutrition, communicable disease control of tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS.

Mr. President,

Our Government is strongly committed to address child protection issues. Our National Strategy on Children which lays out specific activities to prevent violence and exploitation of children has been launched in May 2006. Our nation wide program to demobilize child soldiers was completed in 2006. A total number of 7,444 under age soldiers between the ages of 13-18 were demobilized through out the process. In order to facilitate social integration of those children, local demobilization and reintegration committees have been established all over the country. Important steps towards preventing child trafficking have taken place. We have established a special task force to protect children in bordering provinces from falling into hands of traffickers. As a result, since 2002, 429 cases of child trafficking have been discovered out of which 317 children have been rescued from traffickers.

We are thankful to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for making our achievements possible and rendering services during the most difficult of conditions.

Mr. President,

The prevention of the HIV/AIDS epidemic is among our priorities. However effective policies to combat HIV/AIDS in Afghanistan are hampered by the lack of reliable data on the prevalence of, incidence and ways of transmission. Nevertheless, Afghanistan created its National AIDS Control Program (NACP) in 2004 to collect systematic data on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. We are also taking every measure possible to avert a full epidemic through awareness campaigns.

Mr. President,

Despite progress made, the Afghan Children continue to face insurmountable challenges. Children remain the prime victim of terrorism in Afghanistan. Just last month, a terrorist attack in northern Baghlan province led to the death of more than fifty children. Close to 90 children were left wounded. The horrific incident was among the latest of numerous attacks illustrating the effects of terrorism and insecurity on the lives of our children. As part of their intimidation campaign, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have resorted to new and brutal tactics such as executing young children for teaching English and being in possession of foreign currency. Terrorists are also attacking students and burning schools. Just between August 2006 and July 2007, at least 133 incidents of schools attacks took place, mainly in the southern provinces. As a result, 384 of the 721 schools in provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul are currently closed. Other tactics used by terrorists include deliberate targeting of female teachers and students, as well as use of children as suicide bombers.

Many present here today may recall the incident in which a six year old boy from Ghazni province was deceived by terrorists to wear a vest laden with explosives. Refusing to conduct the attack, the boy confessed to authorities he was told that by pressing the button, flowers would spring out of the vest. The use of children as a tool by terrorists is a new phenomenon that must be prevented.

Mr. President,

Despite the significant increase in enrollment of children in schools, a great number of children, particularly those living in rural areas, continue to face difficulty in accessing educational institutions. To date, approximately 1.2 million primary school age girls remain at home, owing to various factors, including dire socio-economic conditions and insecurity in some areas. We call on our international partners to support the implementation of our National Strategic Plan for Education, whose objectives also include the development of community based schools that are closer to home.

Challenges facing children are not confined to education alone. Recent estimates indicate that the rates of child and maternal mortality in Afghanistan remain among the highest in the world. Close to 900 children under the age of 5 die daily. More than 60 women die every day from pregnancy-related complications. Reversing this trend will require continued international assistance to enhance the capacity of our health centers in all parts of the country. In this regard, we stress the importance of development of accessible family planning services and emergency obstetric care which will help reduce the number of deaths.

Mr. President,

Poverty remains the biggest obstacle in Afghanistan in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the Action Plan of a World Fit for Children. We would like to stress the need for full partnership and expanded cooperation with the international community in our mutual commitment to attain the MDGs and create an “Afghanistan fit for Children”. In that regard, we highlight the need for a considerable increase in the level of Official Development Assistance (ODA) for least developed countries, particularly countries emerging from conflict, to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Thank you Mr. President.

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