Sunday, November 22, 2009

State of the World’s Children Report Kabul launch – 22 November 2009

22 November 2009 - Transcript of press conference held at UNAMA in Kabul by UNICEF's Catherine Mbengue, the EC's Hansjorg Kretschmer and EU Special Representative Ettore Francesco Sequi and Svante Kilander, Ambassador of Sweden to Afghanistan/EC Presidency on the State of the World's Children report.

Good morning everyone and welcome to the Afghanistan launch of the Special Edition of the UNICEF flagship report: ‘State of the World’s Children’ – celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). I am extremely gratified to be joined by three distinguish guests: His Excellency Dr Hansjörg Kretschmer, Head of the European Commission Delegation to Afghanistan; His Excellency Ettore Francesco Sequin, European Union Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan; and His Excellency Svante Kilander, Ambassador of Sweden, EU Presidency. I am very gratified that we also have Paola Retaggi, who is working with Terre des Hommes, one of the key partners of UNICEF, the government and all child activists in this country as far as the Convention on the Rights of Child is concerned. The report was launched in New York on 19 November by UNICEF Executive Director Ms Ann Veneman, accompanied by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Hollywood actress Lucy Liu and Grace Akallo, a former child soldier from Uganda. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted on 20 November 1989 by the United Nations General Assembly. It is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history and articulates the full complement of civil, political, cultural, social and economic rights for all children. The report addresses three main questions: First, what difference has the Convention made to the lives of children over the past two decades? Second, what is its role and relevance now in the face of the worst economic crisis in 90 years? Finally, what role can it have over the next 20 years and beyond, in an increasingly populous, urbanized, disparate and environmentally-challenged world?

The convention has four core principles:
The right to survival and development
The respect for the best interests of the child as a primary consideration;
The right of all children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them; and
The right of all children to enjoy all the rights of the Convention without discrimination of any kind. These principles guide the actions of all stakeholders, including children themselves, in realizing children’s rights to survival, development, protection and participation.

The Convention and its principles have influenced national and local legislatures, motivating governments worldwide to place children’s rights and development at the forefront of their legislative agendas. The most outstanding achievement in child survival and development has been a reduction in the annual number of under-five deaths, from 12.5 million in 1990 to less than nine million in 2008.
Afghanistan ratified the Convention in 1994, changing forever the country’s legal landscape by paving the way for its implementation for the benefit of the children of the country. Since then, we have seen some good progresses towards making the convention a reality for Afghan children. While we celebrate these achievements, which were accomplished due to the partnership between the Government , the people , non governmental organizations, civil society and international community, we remain mindful, that more needs to be done. We must work with an increased sense of urgency, to make the rights of Afghan children come true – too many of them still face violations of their basic rights in our communities. Family and community, civil society and media, development professionals, governments and international agencies, the private sector and youth are the key stakeholders in making the 54 provisions of the CRC a reality for the children of the world and Afghanistan. The roles of these actors are explored by the Report in a series of ten guest essays. Four European Union Commissioners – Jacques Barrett, Louis Michel, Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Javier Solana – have contributed four essays to the Report, in which they state the case for putting child rights higher up in the EU agenda. In line with this global movement for Children and on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Convention, the European Union and UNICEF Afghanistan, sign today a Declaration. This Declaration reiterates our commitment and partnership to continue to work with all stakeholders to make the 54 provisions and principles of the Conventions a reality for all children in Afghanistan and in the world. The declaration invites all of you to join this movement – so that we can work collectively for and with children, and together create a world fit for children here in Afghanistan and throughout the world.

Thank you very much, I am very pleased about the high turn out in journalists and cameras as this is certainly a subject which deserves our full attention. About 50 per cent of the population of Afghanistan is below 15 years of age and that already indicates the importance of the attention we dedicate to the faith of children in this country. What we fail to do in favour of these children will with no doubt reflect on the future of the entire country in a couple of years. But there has been some progress in the sense that Afghanistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and also the two optional protocols. The situation for the children in this country is still dramatically so bad that the recent article which was published by Reuters says that Afghanistan is the worst place in the world to be born in. In terms of infant mortality and below five mortality, Afghanistan is still more or less at the bottom of the world league of nations. Child labour is a very prevalent phenomenon. We do not have precise statistics on that but we know that there are a high number of children at work. There is a big problem in this country about sexual exploitation. The child protection action network handled in 2008, 1,459 cases but we can be certain that it is only the tip of the iceberg. And children are also being used as suicide bombers. Certain achievements without doubt have been made over the last couple of years. In terms of education, we are all proud that there are six to seven million children who are at primary schools but we should never forget about the quality of education they receive, the number of hours is very small, the quality of teachers is very poor and in certain seasons teaching is not possible at all because of the climatic conditions. There has been some progress in juvenile justice with the introduction of alternatives to detention for children. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in 2008 adopted a National Strategy for children with disabilities As far as the European Commission is concerned we have acted in the area of child development and children’s rights since 2003. A first big project with the child rights consortium of different NGOs ran from 2003 to 2008 for which we disbursed 5.8 million Euros and reached 14,500 children, essentially street children and working children in Kabul and also in Torkham. This project included elements like health checks, recreational activities, non-formal education and vocational training skills. The basic package of health services which is spread all over the country and is shared by the Commission together with the World Bank and USAID has a very important mother and child health component which in the end has led to the reduction of infant mortality down from 2.5 per cent to 1.9 per cent and the reduction of below five mortality – 1.6 per cent mortality to 1.3 per cent. Still these figures are very bad. But, as I said, it is significant improvement. Finally, in 2008 the European Commission launched a social protection programme which will have a value of 24 million Euros over a period of four years and in this context the issue of children is also among the most important. Of this amount: eight million Euros again goes to the child rights consortium which will deal with working children, with neglected IDP children and Kuchi children, with children in conflict and also looking at the issue of alternatives to detention in the law and social services to those which are in juvenile rehabilitation. This social protection programme also includes elements dealing with women at risk which has a special component for over age children of women who are in prison and a component for the social integration of the disabled which is also related to children in six different provinces of the country. These are the important efforts by the European Commission. There are similar efforts undertaken by other donors, but overall we must admit that these amounts are very small compared to the total funds which are flowing into Afghanistan for military purposes and do not constitute unfortunately more than a drop in the ocean. I must say that the innocent smiles of the children who sell trinkets to you in the street or who try to clean the screens of our cars deserve better because they are the future of this country. If we do not help them in an adequate way the future of the country indeed will be very bleak.

It happens very frequently that views that my friend Hansjorg Kretschmer has raised are exactly my same views so I will be extremely brief. First of all I am extremely happy to be here in the premises of UNAMA because for four years I worked in New York and dealt with the Third Committee which is exactly the committee that focuses on the rights of children. And I used to prepare for sometimes the words for the president of the Committee on the Rights of Children who sits in Geneva. The previous speakers have stressed that the situation is very serious, they also stressed that there are improvements. The question is: are we doing enough? When you speak about illiteracy, when you talk about health services, when you speak about labour then we need probably one thing: we do not stress enough the dimension of the development because without development it would be much more difficult to address all these problems. As Hansjorg said: Afghanistan has a very young population. I would give other figures that if the present demographic indicators continue in 10-15 years, 75 per cent of the population will be younger than 18. And it is extremely important to stress the sense of urgency. If we don’t act now we shall lose a generation. And we cannot afford that. Therefore I would like to do two appeals: the first is to the Afghan government to focus on these priorities, the priorities of roles and the situation of children. I think that in cooperation with UNAMA we need to encourage the government to intensify their efforts to prosecute all the perpetrators of crimes committed against children and to give in their programme the priorities to the issues we are discussing today. The second appeal is to the international community. There is a word which is very popular in the last few months which is surge. I think that what we need is a surge of attention and a surge of commitment of the international community. I read a very strong sentence of a child working in the streets – not in Kabul but in another country – but I think this could be applied to all the children in the same position. He had a few things stolen from him. He said “well I have nothing else to be stolen because my life is already stolen.” I had a chance to speak with President Karzai sometime ago about children. We are both fathers and it was an issue that we shared: the role and the situation of children and I found him very committed and very aware of the need to address this issue and to give the priority to that. In one conversation, the substance of the entire problem, at the end, came to the rights of the child. And the substance, I think, was the right one: the right of a child is the right to be a child.

SVANTE KILANDER, AMBASSADOR OF SWEDEN TO AFGHANISTAN/EU PRESIDENCY Thank you very much for having taken, Catherine, this initiative, indeed on these extremely important questions. Ettore said it is very difficult to follow up and say something on the wisdoms which Hansjorg has said. For me it is even more difficult to follow up something on what two of my colleagues have said. As Ettore said: we share the same values and we are pronouncing some accents rather than anything else. One basic principle here is that all European Union member states are also members of the United Nations. In Sweden‘s particular case, we were many years longer members of the UN than we have been of the European Union. But nevertheless we belong to the same family or to the same two families. In a context like this, when Sweden, when the European Union cooperates with the United Nations or share the same ideas as the United Nations, from the Swedish side, we usually put forward a grassroots perspective and I wonder if there is any context which is more related to real, the essence of grass root, than when we are dealing with children and children’s right. It is the fundamental, the basic issues for societies, for a society to develop. We speak about development and we speak about children’s rights and we speak about the combination of these, and it has already been mentioned here, the very important issue when we deal with UNICEF’s matters, with children’s matters, is the right to be a child, the right to the identity of a child, the right for a child not to immediately take on the responsibility of adults. From a Swedish perspective, when we deal with these matters it is very easy to come to think of one of our greatest writers, one of our greatest authors, who, let me say, specialized or who was the advocate of children. I would say 50 or 60 years ago, when she started her career as a writer, she introduced this into Swedish literature and to literature as a whole I would say, to put forward the ideas and the thoughts of children and this is now a part of world literature. And I will conclude there by saying that, whenever we deal with children and children’s rights, it is the child’s perspective which must be the guiding star. If we start from there, and with UNICEF, with the UN as a whole, within the European Union, and together with Afghan government and Afghan NGOs, the civil society, that is a necessary and a very good start for a continued work on children’s rights.

PAJHWOK NEWS AGENCY [translated from Dari]: The reports that have been released by human rights groups recently show a high number of children being tortured or violated mostly by the national police and army. The reports show as well the opposition of the Government to using children as suicide bombers. I just want to know which actions and measures the United Nations are going to take to solve this?
UNICEF: It is a problem, indeed. As you know, we have now, luckily, a task force in Afghanistan. As you may know, last year, Afghanistan was put on the Security Council agenda under what we now call Resolution 1612, which, indeed, looks at the way war is impacting on children. We have a series of issues which are looked into, these two resolutions and, of course, Afghanistan is supposed to prepare a report for the Security Council for those items, which are: killing of children, sexual violence against children, and recruitment of children. We try to do this monitoring, and, then the report goes to the Security Council, including some recommendations. When the report comes back we discuss this with the Government and the various partners in order to address some of these issues collectively. I think the Excellencies here also mentioned the Child Protection Network, which is really a network of people working on child rights and child issues in this country. It includes the Government, civil society, national and international NGOs, and also child rights activists. They collect all the information related to the violation of child rights, issues which link to child rights, in terms of abuses and so on. Figures have also been given by the head of the European Commission here. These figures are then brought together, discussed, and made known, not only to the Government, but to all. Some of the violations of children’s rights start at home. We should not forget that. So all these issues are discussed and brought together.
ARIANA TV [translated from Dari]: My question is for the head of the European Commission in Afghanistan. You mentioned that above the assistance of the European Union for the children of Afghanistan, the Commission is also providing some money for different causes. Can you give us some figures about how many children have their rights violated, and also in which perspective their rights are violated? Are they used as child soldiers, for illegal labour, or are there other problems on top of that?
EC: All of what you mentioned is of course examples of abuse of children. It can be child soldiers, child labour, sexual exploitation of children, and all of this happens in Afghanistan. I believe nobody has to expect numbers, because the number of children we are dealing with within our project is of course very limited. I mentioned this programme from 2003 to 2008, covering 14,500 children, but there are other figures around, this enormous grey zone where we don’t have any figures about abuses of children. Certainly there is, in many areas of Afghanistan’s public life, a big difference between what is said in the laws, and the reality. I think that what is important, in relation to children, is that everybody has to work for them, you, as media, and also each individual who is concerned about this issue. We have to change minds. We have to bring everybody in Afghanistan to the conviction that children should not be used as tools, as instruments, they should not be exploited. Each child has a personality of its own, and we have to respect this personality, perhaps more than the personality of all the people, because a child is much more susceptible to shocks. So as long as everyone in Afghanistan, everyone who has responsibility for the future of this country doesn’t have this mindset, I think we don’t have a great hope in terms of children’s rights in this country. These are the fundamental things that projects can do and we can all do very small things, but the very big thing is to make all Afghans aware of the value of the children, and of the fact that children are the future of the country. 75 per cent of Afghans will be below the age of 18 in 2025, so we are talking about this part of the population that constitutes Afghanistan in a couple of years. If they are abused, if they are traumatized, if they don’t feel having a personality which is allowed to develop, it will be a disaster for this country, so we all have a responsibility, the donors, the Afghan politicians, those who are responsible in Afghanistan, and each Afghan citizen.

TOLO TV [translated from Dari]: All the issues related to the child protection and child rights are mentioned here but in Afghanistan the situation is worsening day by day and you don’t see any single day that children are not working on the streets. Don’t you think that Afghanistan is one of the world’s dangerous places for children? If it is in which category does it come among the other countries in the world?
If I can say something to that I think you are right. The situation is not improving for the children but we also have this progress in terms of schooling and the schooling of girls and so on. These are of course steps forward but the dramatic economic situation is not helpful in terms of promoting the well-being of children because it has of course also had a strong impact on the minds of adulthood. But it is very difficult to make a ranking among the nations of the world since certainly we don’t know the details of the all poor countries in the world but I would think that Afghanistan is ranking very, very low in the scale of 190 or 195 nations of the world and it is not only the donors I think in this respect each and everyone is responsible to treat the children as they deserve to be treated.

Friday, November 20, 2009

President Karzai must commit to human rights

Amnesty International urges Afghanistan’s newly re-elected President Hamid Karzai to prioritize human rights and the rule of law in his second term in order to strengthen the country’s stability and security.
“Afghans from around the country continue to tell us that they suffer from poor governance, endemic corruption, a weak and inept justice system and lack of respect for human rights and rule of law,” said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific director. “All these factors weaken support for the government and its international allies.”
Amnesty International noted that the recent presidential elections were marred by human rights abuses by the candidates as well as the Taleban's increasing attacks against civilians. The organization raised concerns that the upcoming parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for August or September 2010, faced potentially even greater human rights violations as well as Taleban violence.
“Government officials and parliamentarians suspected of serious human rights violations and war crimes are enjoying blatant impunity. Many are also widely believed to be involved in corruption and criminal activities, but are rarely held accountable,” said Sam Zarifi.
“In order to rebuild the trust of the Afghan people and the international community, government officials and parliamentarians suspected of serious human rights violations must be kept out of the election process and held to account.”