Some tragic figures on children in Afghanistan

The Frontier Post
October 25, 2000
By Arshad Mahmood

When ever war broke out in any part of the world it affected the children the most.

During the last decade, two million children worldwide have been killed as a result of war, four to five million children have been disabled, 12 million have been left homeless, more than one million orphaned or separated from their parents, and approximately ten million children have been psychologically traumatised as a result of war (UNICEF's The State of World's Children 1996).

The most affected countries regarding the killings of children due to war or its consequences are Afghanistan and Iraq.

In both these countries thousands of children were killed during the war. In Afghanistan only, where a civil war has been continuing for the past 20 years, around 300,000 to 400,000 children have died out of total population of 20 million. In addition, the devastation has contributed to the deaths of thousands of children from hunger and disease. An American who visited Afghanistan on an official visit in September said that the recent draught has made the situation worse for children in Afghanistan along with the UN sanctions.

She said that she felt very uncomfortable while having her meals in Hazarajat area of Afghanistan because of the food situation there. More than 250,000 children are reported dying every year of malnutrition alone in Afghanistan. Every three hours or so, a child is blown up as a result of more than ten million landmines planted all over Afghanistan. One-third of Afghanistan's landmine victims are estimated to be children (UNOCHA 1999).

Those children who survive a trauma of a mine incident are burden on their families and require extensive medical care, rehabilitation and most importantly, economic support throughout their lives.

More than one quarter of Afghan babies do not see their fifth birthday (UNESCO, 1997).According to UNICEF's State of the World's Children Report, Afghanistan has the fourth worst record in under five child mortality, the infant mortality rate being 152 per 1,000 live births.

More than a quarter of a million children under five die each year, many more than those caught in armed conflict or killed by mines. War have several other worse effects on children including loss of parents and other close relatives, many left their education because of poverty, displacements, disabilities, destroyed infrastructure of education etc. Many of the street children have no shelter and are dependent on relatives for a place to stay or they shake up in abandoned houses. According to a survey conducted by the UNHCR in 1997, there are an estimated 28,000 street children in Kabul, 20 per cent of whom are girls.

However with the increase in the number of displaced persons in the country, the figure has risen to more than 35,000.

These children are either involved in begging or working on the streets as shoe polishers, or car washers; the purpose being to support their families. The situation of education is also worse, many schools have been destroyed or lost teachers due to Islamisation of education by the Taliban regime, as before Taliban's rule 70 per cent of teachers in Kabul were female.

Because of which boy schools are facing high shortage of teachers now. On the other hand those children who are living as refugees with their parents in different parts of Pakistan are also deprived of adequate schooling.

A large number of child labourers in Peshawar are Afghans who are working to give a helping hand to their parents.

Those schools extending educational facilities to refugee children are without basic necessities, which is leading to a poor quality of education. These schools are housed in very dilapidated buildings.

In Peshawar recently several children lost their lives because of collapse of a school building. After the incident many Afghan schools were closed by the government due to safety reasons but the question is what would be the future of those children getting education from those schools.

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UN fears for Afghan child soldiers

BBC News, August 20, 1999
By Richard Galpin in Islamabad

The UN has called on the Taliban and opposition forces in Afghanistan to stop recruiting child soldiers to fight in the long-running civil war. At a news conference in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, the UN said it believed children as young as 14 were involved in the fighting in Afghanistan.

The UN said some were being sent straight to the frontlines. Louis Georges Arsenault, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) representative for Afghanistan, said: "We know it's increasing and that's why we are worried."There are more fighters being recruited and there are more students under the age of 18.

"That's why we are making it an issue much more now." Although this is not a new problem, the UN stressed it was particularly concerned at the moment following a massive recruitment drive by the Taliban in the religious schools in neighboring Pakistan.

It said thousands of students, including many teenagers, had joined the Taliban ranks in recent weeks to take part in the current offensive north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

It is widely believed that many of the young students in the religious schools in Pakistan receive military training as part of the standard curriculum. They are therefore keen to join the jihad, or holy war, in Afghanistan. Unicef says both countries have signed the convention on child rights and should stop allowing children under 18 to fight.

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504 Afghan refugees killed by cold wave

The News: Jang, Feb.2, 2001
By Rahimullah Yusufzai

PESHAWAR: The death toll in makeshift camps for internally displaced Afghans in Herat, western Afghanistan, due to severe cold rose to 504 on Thursday following the death of another 22 people on Wednesday night. Syed Raz Mohammad Agha, head of the refugees repatriation department in the Taliban administration in Herat, told The News that the deaths had occurred during the last three days as a cold wave swept the area in the wake of an unprecedented snowfall and temperature plunged to minus 25 degrees centigrade.

"We estimated the deaths at 482 on Wednesday and another 22 by Thursday night. This makes up a total of 504," he explained. The Office of the United Nations Coordinator for Afghanistan in a statement in Islamabad on Wednesday had reported more than 110 deaths due to cold in the six displacement camps in Herat.

It believed the main victims of the extreme temperatures were children, the elderly and women. It added that some 300,000 displaced people were at risk due to drought in western Afghanistan. According to Agha, inadequate shelter and miserable living conditions in the six camps in Herat made their inmates vulnerable to cold and disease. He said the drought-stricken families inhabiting these makeshift camps lacked tents, quilts and blankets, food and medicines.

"The World Food Programme and earlier the International Committee of the Red Cross provided some assistance but it was inadequate. These people need a lot more to survive," he argued. Agha pointed out that there was only one poorly-equipped clinic for 30,000 displaced people in one of the camps. He said the three camps inside Herat city were in an equally bad shape. Another Taliban official Mohammad Ajmal Yousafzai said in Herat that the administration recently provided food for all the refugees for two days.

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95% Afghan children do not go to school

July 22, 2000

PESHAWAR, July 21 (Dawn) -- The sources of the United Nations have estimated that over 95 per cent Afghan children do not go to school, which depicts the total collapse of the education system in the war-ravaged country. According to reports as a result of 21 years of war an entire generation of Afghan children is growing without education. Girls are most affected as they are prevented from going to school while boys have also suffered as a significant proportion of qualified teachers, in major cities such as Kabul, Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif, used to be women.

Until 1996, 70 per cent of the teachers in Kabul were women, 8,000 women were enrolled at Kabul University, 40 per cent of the children enrolled at the Afghan capital's 63 schools were girls but as a result of the prolonged civil strife things have turned upside down.

Now teachers are unable to work and are gradually leaving Afghanistan. Thus, experts say, the outlook in a country which had one of world's worst literacy rates the situation has turned extremely bleak.

The United Nations has estimated female literacy to be at 15 per cent and 32 per cent for males.

Both Afghan experts and those of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees describe the bleakest possible prospects of improvement for the future generations of Afghanistan, which is one of the word's poorest, most devastated and least developed nations with no visible signs of improvement in the prevailing situation as fighting is continue between Taliban militia and forces of Afghan commander Ahmed Shah Masood.

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Afghan children left to their own devices

Los Angeles Times,
May 4, 2000
By Robin Wright

KABUL: Mazar Uddin is a 6-year-old with a head of dusty hair who was deposited at the Alla Auddin Orphanage more than a year ago. His mother, a young widow, left him at the rundown compound in the war-ravaged Afghan capital because she could no longer afford to keep her four sons, especially those who couldn't work. Mazar, the youngest, was the first to go.

Allauddin is the only refuge for children in Kabul. It may also be the world's only orphanage where most children have at least one living parent. But poverty is rampant in Kabul: Up to 70 percent are unemployed, and a mid-level civil-service job pays about $10 a month. Allauddin has been so overwhelmed with orphans, nearing 800 and counting, that it had to move Mazar and more than half the younger ones into a renovated compound in the ruined half of the city.

"Renovated" is a relative word in Afghanistan, however. Uddin shares a bed and filthy blanket with a larger boy in a small room with 38 other orphans. A putrid stench in the hallways comes from bathrooms without running water, because the vintage generator that powers lights and water pumps recently broke down. Medicine is too expensive, so waves of maladies sweep through the concrete-floor wards; one child recently died of measles. Meals consist of bread and tea for breakfast, rice for both lunch and dinner. Dried milk once provided by a foreign charity is long gone. When asked what the kids do to play, Mazar replied with his own question, "What's a toy?"

Allauddin is a microcosm of Afghanistan after a generation of conflict: abandoned, primitive, fending for itself against numbing odds. A second generation is on the verge of being lost: Tens of thousands of Afghan children are doomed because virtually no one with the power or means to help has even bothered to notice.

Children kept by their families aren't so lucky, either. Under the searing Central Asian sun, kids as young as 5 spend their days throwing dirt in rocky abysses along the axle-tearing, muffler-busting, windshield-cracking road to Kabul. The 110-mile stretch takes more than six hours to traverse.

Kids hope drivers will toss out a few afghanis, a small fraction of a cent, since the afghani recently plummeted to 75,000 to the US dollar. Few do. Other children flog old Pepsi cans filled with water from the muddy Kabul River to travelers stopping at checkpoints.

In Kabul, nearly 30,000 kids are estimated to survive by brazenly begging or scavenging through garbage and war ruins.

Afghanistan is going back in time, and Afghan warlords aren't the only ones to blame. Once their Cold War rivalry ended, both superpowers simply packed up and left the country to the monsters and the monstrous conditions they helped create. The United States bears as much responsibility as the Soviet Union for this nation's unravelling.

Politically, most of Afghanistan is controlled by semi-literate and narrow-minded Taliban who were educated in a neighbouring country's 'madresahs,' or religious schools, in the 1980s, a time when Islamic zealots were seen by the United States, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as the force to counter communism in Central Asia.

Widely welcomed when they captured Kabul in 1996, the Taliban have since failed abysmally to improve life on any front. Life is far more repressive than during the Soviet occupation, with ruthless religious police in souped-up pickups patrolling for shopkeepers who don't close down during prayers, for curfew breakers, and for women with improper dressor girls attempting to go to secret schools - since female education is banned.

But the opposition is no better. The Taliban emerged in the mid-1990s because the diverse mujahideen factions who forced the Soviet retreat in 1989 went to war among themselves. The Soviets left the capital intact. The mujahideen came in and destroyed it, leaving behind mines in homes and public buildings that still kill civilians, including scavenging children.

After the Taliban ran them out, some mujahideen factions regrouped in the Northern Alliance that now controls 10 percent of the country. The latest spring offensive signals their determination to return, but few Afghans believe the alliance will hold together in the unlikely event it should retake Kabul. The bottom line is that neither the Taliban nor the Northern Alliance represents hope for either peace or stability.

-Dawn/LAT-WP News Service (c) Los Angeles Times


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UNICEF facts on Children and Women in Afghanistan


UNICEF, January 2000


- 22.1 million people live in poverty and substandard conditions
- Infrastructure in ruins from 21 years of war
- Systemic gender discrimination against women and girls
- Widespread human rights abuses based on ethnicity, religion and language
- Landmines
- 309,000 children under five years of age die each year; under-five mortality rate ranks fourth worldwide
- The education of girls is banned in over 90 per cent of the country.
- Only 17 per cent of population has access to safe water, and only 10 per cent to adequate sanitation
- Adult literacy rate is 27 per cent for men and 5.6 per cent for women
- Primary school enrolment for both girls and boys is low
- An entire generation of children has grown up amidst armed conflict
- The infant mortality rate measures 165 per 1,000 live births, while the under-five mortality rate is 257 per 1,000 live births.
- Diarrhoeal diseases and acute respiratory infections cause an estimated 42 per cent of childhood deaths.
- Poor access to obstetric care and a lack of reproductive health and family planning services contribute to the declining health status of women and children.
- One in five children present signs of acute malnutrition
- More than one half of women of reproductive age have never received tetanus toxoid (TT).
- The quality of education is poor, and school enrolment countrywide is low.

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Diarrhoea kills 85,000 Afghan children a year

Reuters, December 13, 1999

ISLAMABAD, Dec 13 (Reuters) - Diarrhoea kills 85,000 children a year in war-torn Afghanistan, the U.N. children's fund said on Monday.

A UNICEF statement quoted speakers gathered to launch a UNICEF report in the eastern Afghan town of Jalalabad.

UN regional coordinating officer Abu-El Gasim Abu-Diek appealed to governments and international communities to bring global conflict to an end, the statement said.

He added that children made up 35 percent of all landmine victims in Afghanistan.

"Wars have put children and mothers into a deadly destiny of no return," he said. "The basic needs of food, medicine and clothing have now become wants of millions of Afghans."

Last month, the United Nations launched a campaign for $221 million in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.

It came less than two weeks after the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on the impoverished country for failing to hand over Saudi guerrilla Osama bin Laden.

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Children the Victims in Afghan War

AP, December 27, 1998
By: Kathy Gannon

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The little girl shyly opens a tiny tattered white purse to reveal her treasure -- a carefully folded piece of traditional Afghan unleavened bread. Food is a precious commodity on the streets of Kabul, especially for the city's weakest residents, the children orphaned by Afghanistan's long war.

Sameera is 8. Two years ago, her parents and brothers died during one of the relentless rocket assaults that ravaged Kabul for four years while rival Islamic factions fought for control of the capital.

Sameera, too, was injured.

Leaning on a friend for support, Sameera removes her sock to show a gaping hole in her ankle "Shrapnel," she says matter of factly. Then she gently pats her shin, thigh and chest to show where other pieces of an exploded rocket shredded her body.

She smiles and points to the wrecked buildings behind her. "That's my home down the street," she says. She lives with her aunt.

Sameera is with a band of children, all parentless, skipping home from a morning of clandestine classes where they were learning to read. The Taliban religious army, which now rules Kabul with a strict hand, has barred girls from attending school.

International aid groups estimate 28,000 children live on the streets of the city, many of them scavengers like Sameera's friends who start out before daybreak to collect wood and garbage to sell and burn.

In a survey a year ago, the United Nations Children's Fund found that two of every three children interviewed had seen someone killed during the fighting in Kabul. About seven in 10 had lost a close relative to the war. Even sadder, virtually every child surveyed expected to die a violent death, the report said.

Many children in Kabul spend theirs days scavenging and their nights fighting off the cold and nightmares.

Seven-year-old Zia's father died when a rocket hit near their home. The boy found the mutilated body on the doorstep, and most nights and often during the day he relives his father's death.

"Now when I see the electricity pole where he fell, I see my father," he says through an interpreter. "I cry at night. It still is a shock to my brain.''

Zia attends a school for street kids run by a Swiss-based group, ASHIANA. The organization gives the children two hot meals and three hours of classes every day.

While talking with a reporter, Zia stuffs a piece of bread in his tattered jacket and whispers he will give it to his brother at home.

Because of the Taliban's ban on girls attending school, the ASHIANA group each month distributes flour, tea, sugar and rice to young girls who are living on the street. Mohammed Yousuf, an administrator with ASHIANA, says the group has registered 650 boys and about the same number of girls.

At Kabul's largest orphanage, where 400 children live, there is no money for shoes for the smallest children. They huddle around a single wood-burning stove for heat and most have a constant cough. There is little medicine and several children lie bundled in dirty woolen blankets, coughing and shivering.

One little girl, barely 5, apparently has a degenerative nerve disease that leaves her weak and wracked by muscle spasms. But the orphanage staff can neither identify the illness nor do they have medicine to treat her.

"Sometimes she is just screaming we have to carry her to the bathroom. Her legs are too weak,'' says Dil Jan, an elderly woman who has worked at the orphanage for 17 years.

"Before it was always the fighting ... now there is no fighting, but there is no bread, no heat, no clothes for the children. It's becoming worse and worse.''

The International Red Cross supplies fuel to the orphanage, but other aid groups that once helped out have left Kabul in protest over the Taliban's order to relocate to war-damaged university dormitories.

"We have sick children, but we don't even have the cost of a taxi to take them to the hospital,'' says Maulvi Mohammed Asif, the orphanage's director. "To see this,'' Asif says, looking around at his orphanage, "it is a humanitarian failure."

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