Protecting children’s rights in Afghanistan spotlighted at Kunduz University symposium

A UN-backed seminar at Kunduz University drew more than 100 students and professors to discuss measures to protect children in armed conflict. Photo: Hamedulla Sahell

31 Oct 2019

Protecting children’s rights in Afghanistan spotlighted at Kunduz University symposium

KUNDUZ - Participants at a UN-backed seminar on human rights, held at Kunduz University, underscored the crucial need to strengthen measures to protect children in Afghanistan’s armed conflict.

Those attending the seminar, which was facilitated by UNAMA’s Kunduz regional office, discussed international, national and Islamic principles related to protecting children during armed conflict, with a specific focus on Afghanistan.

“Vulnerable people, in particular women and children, are forcibly drawn into the conflict to fight, to carry out suicide attacks or for other purposes,” said Hedayatulla Haqmal, the dean of the law faculty at Kunduz University. “Children must be protected.”

Mahbubula Rohani, a professor at the university, insisted that the parties to the conflict must observe applicable national and international frameworks. “They must adhere to international human rights law, pay attention to children’s lives and not use them in conflict,” he said.

In the wide-ranging discussion, professors, students and other participants strategized on ways to prevent children from being recruited into the conflict as soldiers or insurgents.

Other participants stressed the need to address factors that make children susceptible to being drawn into the conflict and put forward practical ideas as solutions, such as strengthening processes around identification and age verification at the Afghan Civil Registry Authority.

Afghanistan’s north-eastern region, which consists of four provinces, including Kunduz, has in recent years experienced a growing number of insurgent activities, consequently leaving many children susceptible to abuse.

In Kunduz and across the country, Afghanistan’s protracted conflict has extracted a heavy toll on children. The impact has been wide-reaching and devastating; thousands of children have been killed or maimed. Many have been displaced with their families and are living in poverty, unable to attend school.

Earlier this year, the Government of Afghanistan launched the Law on Protection of Child Rights, which added to a collection of other related legislation, such as the 2011 Joint Action Plan for the Prevention of Underage Recruitment, signed together with the United Nations.

In 2014, the government’s Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee on Children and Armed Conflict endorsed a 15-point roadmap toward compliance with the action plan, drafted jointly by the Afghan Government and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, UNICEF and UNAMA.

In 2015, the government enacted a law criminalizing the recruitment and use of children in the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces. In addition, Afghanistan’s revised Penal Code, which entered into force in February 2018, not only criminalized the recruitment and use of children in military units but also outlawed bacha bazi, a harmful practice whereby boys are exploited by powerful men for entertainment, particularly dancing and sexual activities.

Kunduz University has been operating a Legal Clinic, and the latest engagement with UNAMA’s Human Rights team is another step in enriching the existing curricula and increasing human rights awareness among youth, according to Khaibar Saifi, Chancellor of Kunduz University.

The symposium, part of a series of four, was recorded and broadcast by Uranoos TV and Radio Kunduz to an audience estimated at 300,000 people in and around Kunduz city.

UNAMA continues to work with advocacy groups and institutions – including provincial councils, religious leaders, youth groups, women’s groups and local media outlets – to create platforms, using radio, social media and television, to enable Afghans to engage in dialogue on pressing issues affecting their communities.

At almost every UNAMA-backed event, local media partners not only record the discussions and debates for later rebroadcast, but also create new programmes around the issues that are raised, extending the discussion and creating new opportunities for local voices to be heard on issues such as peace, reconciliation, government transparency and human rights.

In accordance with its mandate as a political mission, UNAMA supports the Afghan people and government to achieve peace and stability. UNAMA backs conflict prevention and resolution, promoting inclusion and social cohesion, as well as strengthening regional cooperation. The Mission supports effective governance, promoting national ownership and accountable institutions that are built on respect for human rights.