by Thalif Deen
(IPS) UNITED NATIONS --
conflict in Afghanistan threatens the lives of millions of children already victimized by disease, malnutrition and human rights abuses, warns a top UN children's affairs official.
Olara Otunnu, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, says continued exposure to armed conflict diminishes the prospect of a lasting peace because the lives of young Afghans -- the troubled country's future -- are being defined by death, violence, deprivation, lack of education, and despair.
Afghanistan has been ravaged by almost continuous war for more than 20 years.
"If there is to be durable peace in Afghanistan," he says, "it is important to provide hope and rehabilitation to those children and youth, in order make them a constructive force for the rebuilding of their country."
One out of every four Afghan children dies before the age of five from preventable diseases, he says. Half of all surviving children suffer from malnutrition.
In the capital of Kabul alone, 40 percent of children have lost at least one parent. Nationwide, some 700,000 women are war widows. Of the estimated 100,000 victims of landmines, more than two-thirds were children.
Last month, the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, a New York-based non-governmental organization, said that Afghan children who have suffered a litany of abuses over the past 20 years face grave new risks during the current conflict.
"The situation of Afghan children and adolescents is shocking," said Mary Diaz, the commission's executive director.
"Generations of young people have suffered severe physical and emotional trauma as a direct result of 20 years of war. The ongoing violence continues to threaten their well being," Diaz added.
The commission, in a report entitled "Watch List on Children and Armed Conflict: Afghanistan," said that Afghan children are among the world's poorest. Of the 7.5 million Afghans who may have to rely on international relief to survive this winter, about 1.5 million are children under the age of five.
The study accused both the Taliban and opposition Northern Alliance forces for recruiting children younger than 18 for deployment as child soldiers.
"The Taliban has drawn recruits from young Afghan refugees attending religious schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with large-scale recruitment associated with significant defeats or major offensives," it stated.
The report said children also have been reported in the ranks of Northern Alliance forces.
Otunnu urges all warring parties in the Afghan conflict to abide strictly by the provisions of international humanitarian and human rights laws.
He says he is "very disturbed" by reports of massive participation of children in Taliban and Northern Alliance forces, and of their increased recruitment for military purposes.
"All levels of pressure must be brought to bear to stop that practice," he says.
Last month, the UN Development Program (UNDP) said Afghanistan ranked among "the most destitute, war-weary countries in the world in terms of human development."
The average life expectancy was of about 40 years. The illiteracy rate was about 64 percent.
"In most aspects, Afghanistan is worse off than almost any country in the world," said Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, director of the agency's Human Development Report Office. "The country's social and economic indicators are comparable, or lower than, the indicators for sub-Saharan Africa."
Among 187 countries, only seven have lower life expectancy than Afghanistan.
November 19, 2001 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
All Rights Reserved.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.