Security Council debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Statement by H.E. Dr. Zahir Tanin
Permanent Representative of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to the United Nations
At the Security Council debate on Children and Armed Conflict

Mr. President,

Allow me to begin by joining previous speakers in congratulating you on your assumption of the Presidency of the Council and wishing you every success in steering the work of the Council to a successful conclusion. We extend our appreciation for convening today’s debate, which provides an opportunity to reaffirm our collective commitment to ensure the protection, rights and well-being of children in armed conflicts.

We also thank Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General, and Ms. Anne Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), for their insightful briefings delivered this morning.

Since the adoption of Security Council resolution 1612 (2005), a number of important steps have been taken to ensure the protection of children in conflict situations. These include the creation of a monitoring and reporting mechanism to provide accurate and timely information on grave violations against children in war, and the working group for concrete recommendations on child protection in country specific situations. Nevertheless, it remains a grim reality that children continue to be subject to grave violations in conflict situations worldwide.

Mr. President,

Today’s meeting is of particular importance to Afghanistan, as a country that has suffered from decades of armed-conflict, which has had a devastating impact on the most vulnerable part of our population, namely children. Nevertheless, we have achieved considerable progress in promoting and safeguarding the rights of our children since 2001.

We remain firm in our commitment to ensure the security and well-being of our children at every stage of their life. Afghanistan is party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, one on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the other on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. National legislation has been enacted to implement the Convention and its two Protocols. With the conclusion of our nation-wide child-demobilization program, 7,444 under-aged soldiers recruited by illegal armed groups have been de-mobilized. As a next step, we have put in place reintegration committees and vocational schools in numerous provinces to reintegrate former soldiers into civil life. In this regard, we call on our international partners to assist us in implementing such programs and facilitate creating employment opportunities for our youth. In addition, strict measures have been adopted to prevent recruitment of soldiers below the age of 18 in our armed forces. Mechanisms are in place in our security institutions to inspect and monitor newly acquired soldiers during both the recruitment and training stage to ensure that the minimum age-requirement for recruitment is met.

Regarding child-trafficking, our government has established a special task force to prevent children from being abducted and falling victim to traffickers. Since 2002, 429 cases of child-trafficking have been reported, from which 329 children have been rescued. Our Penal Code is one among various domestic laws addressing the abduction and kidnapping of children. Those measures have been complemented by President Karzai’s initiative to create an Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Prevention of Child Trafficking in November 2003, as well as the launch of our National Action Plan to Combat Child Trafficking.

Mr. President,

Despite our progress, terrorism remains a harsh reality in the lives of our children. Terrorists have increased attacks against schools, teachers, school-children and clinics. Attacks on and burning of schools have kept approximately 300,000 children from attending school out of fear of violence. As indicated in the report of the Secretary General, just between August 2006 and July 2007, at least 133 incidents of school attacks were reported. Those attacks, which have occurred mainly in the southern provinces, have led to the closing of 384 of the 721 schools in the provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul.

Terrorists have spared no effort to harm all segments of society as they have increased their attacks in densely populated areas or within the vicinity of public gatherings. The effects of such activity have had a devastating impact on the lives of our children. Just three months ago, a terrorist attack against a Parliamentary delegation in Baghlan province led to the death of more than 50 children while another 90 were left severely wounded. In this context, I express my delegation’s appreciation to the Council for its swift response in condemning the attack on the 8th of November.

Afghanistan’s enemies have resorted to new and brutal tactics. In the most malicious practice conceivable, terrorists are recruiting children and sending them to operate as suicide bombers. As documented in a UNICEF report entitled Child-Alert – released in October of last year -a 16 year old Afghan boy was ordered to wear a vest full of explosives and detonate it in Ghazni province. The report quotes the boy as saying, [and I quote]“The remote control battery was with me, but I could not do it and threw the battery away…If I didn’t do it, they said I would go to hell,” [end of quote]. In that regard, we remain extremely concerned over the use of religious schools (madrasas) in the region where children are indoctrinated and deceived into carrying out terrorist acts.

We are also concerned about the loss of life and injury suffered by children during counter-terrorism operations, resulting mainly from the Taliban’s use of the civilian population as human shields. In that regard, we call on our international partners to exercise maximum caution and enhance coordination with Afghan security forces during counter-terrorism operations to avoid the loss of civilian life.

Mr. President,

Despite considerable progress in improving the lives of our children, as evident by the reduction in the rate of infant mortality by 85,000 per year, and increased access to health centers throughout the country, the humanitarian situation of our children remains dire, owing to the prevailing security situation. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan children lack basic necessities for a decent life. These include food, water, adequate shelter and sanitation facilities. Their situation is further complicated by the difficulty in accessing supplies and humanitarian assistance. In this regard, we welcome UNICEF’s latest appeal for financial assistance in support of the situation of our children.

Mr. President,

Addressing the protection of children in armed conflict requires the collective commitment of the

international community. It also necessitates a comprehensive strategy encompassing key pillars. As part of the effort to safeguard the rights of children, the international community should accord a special focus on poverty alleviation by rendering financial and economic assistance to post-conflict countries so as to enable them to meet their development goals. By doing so, we will meet the pre-conditions for creating an environment conducive for the sustainable human development and well-being of our children.

My delegation commends the work undertaken by the relevant agencies of the United Nations to protect and promote the rights of children in armed conflict, particularly the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). We are particularly grateful to UNICEF for its ongoing efforts in support of a better and brighter future for our children.

In conclusion, I would like to underscore the commitment of Afghanistan to ensure the protection of the rights of children in general, and we remain committed to support every measure, both within the Council and other relevant organs of the United Nations, to protect the rights of children in armed conflict. After all, by protecting our children, we are securing our future.

Thank you Mr. President.

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