|Children flee the scene of fighting triggered by an attack claimed by the Afghan Taliban in Kabul on Friday, 24 May|
On Wednesday 31 May, an attack of rare violence hit Kabul, killing over 80 people and injuring nearly 460 people, including many children. Very exposed targets that suffer greatly from the years of war that ruin the country. Interview with Denise Shepherd-Johnson, Unicef Communications Officer in Kabul.
According to a report by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Manua), not only is the number of civilian victims of the conflict increasing dramatically, but the number of children beats fatal records: 3512, or 24 % More than in 2015. How to explain it?
Denise Shepherd-Johnson: This is because of the recurrent use of weapons in populated areas and the use of small-scale explosive devices that put people at risk. Alas, the children inevitably leave. Between January and April 2017, 42% of child victims were due to clashes on the ground. The first four months of 2017 saw a record number of child casualties, including high numbers of children killed, compared to the same periods since the Mission began documenting these cases. Between 1 January and 30 April 2017, Manua registered 987 child victims (283 deaths – or 21% compared to the same period in 2016 – and 704 injuries).
More generally, how do the attacks that regularly hit the capital or the climate of insecurity affect the daily lives of Afghan children? For example, do you see a drop in schooling?
Conflicts everywhere weaken basic services such as education and health. Attacks and threats may also have other less direct effects, such as closing schools or decreasing the attendance rate of schoolchildren. A security incident can also affect the decisions of parents or students themselves to continue their education. This may influence the general perception of whether it is safe to go to school for children ( especially girls). Yet, the children show a real desire to pursue their school curriculum. Everyone knows the benefits they can get by going to school.
The Child Protection Action Network (CPAN), supported by UNICEF, regularly conducts community dialogues to address various issues related to the rights of the child. CPAN (which includes professionals from different sectors: social work, education, police, etc.) also provides the equivalent of case management (“case management”) that can deal with children’s problems and guide those who require Socio-psychological support. The CPAN ensures regular monitoring of the child to assess its well-being.
Have you seen an increase in the number of child soldiers?
Afghan children continue to be recruited by all sides of the conflict, and this must stop. The conflict is having a devastating effect on children, and in 2016, the United Nations numbered 1,200 children enrolled.
What are the different actions Unicef Afghanistan has put in place to give children what they need?
Through a five-year cooperation program with the Afghan government, UNICEF is working with the authorities and various partners to improve access to care and increase the use of hygiene and care services for Mothers, Newborns, children under 5 and girls, especially in deprived areas; To eradicate polio; To enrich the diet of young children and their mothers; To develop the use of drinking water and hygiene practices; To ensure access to and quality of primary schools, including the provision of educational materials; Or to improve institutional and legislative frameworks to protect children from violence, abuse and exploitation.
In Kabul, as in the rest of the country?
UNICEF sets up its programs in towns and in rural areas. In areas that are difficult to access (because of distance, terrain, or security), we work with civil society organizations, engage with local communities, religious leaders, tribal leaders, And local representatives of the state to ensure that our actions affect the most vulnerable children.
With regard to polio vaccination campaigns, how are they perceived by the population?
The eradication of polio in Afghanistan, as elsewhere, is one of UNICEF’s top priorities. In 2017, UNICEF supports the Government in implementing 10 immunization campaigns at the national and intermediate levels. At present, most of the country is no longer affected by polio. The number of cases has increased from 20 in 16 districts in 2015 to 13 in 4 districts in 2016. As of 31 March 2017, 3 districts were reported. But an important indicator of the evolution of this disease, other than the number of cases, is the geographical decrease of the virus. The national program is, therefore, continuing the implementation of an emergency action plan for the eradication of polio, adapting to an evolving security context, To reach as many children as possible, while maintaining the neutrality of the program. Hostility to vaccines is not a major obstacle. Most Afghans accept vaccination. Afghanistan has an informed and active civil society, the media, and a knowledgeable generation of parents who accept the polio vaccine when it is offered. According to a study conducted in 2016, nearly 90% of Afghans recognize that vaccination is useful for polio protection. And a knowledgeable generation of parents who accept the polio vaccine when it is offered. According to a study conducted in 2016, nearly 90% of Afghans recognize that vaccination is useful for polio protection. And a knowledgeable generation of parents who accept the polio vaccine when it is offered. According to a study conducted in 2016, nearly 90% of Afghans recognize that vaccination is useful for polio protection.
UNICEF also works for young women . What are the situations you are facing and how do you overcome the obstacles?
In Afghanistan, 46% of girls are married before the age of 18. This issue is closely related to the social and cultural norms of the country, which will take a time to change. Early married girls are less likely to go to school, may find themselves excluded from access to care, and must also face prohibitions of grouping. UNICEF is calling on religious leaders or community leaders, government and civil society to be involved in protecting children from practices such as early marriages. We are working in particular with the Ministry of Religious Affairs to raise awareness of the importance of Islam’s role in ensuring the protection of children.