On October 7, 2001 allied forces invaded Afghanistan, and while the war is not at the forefront of most peoples minds, sadly the effects of the Taliban and the war are far from being distant memories. Thus it is children who ultimately pay the higher price for the conflict. While the north of the country remains relatively stable, the south continues in conflict, and while there is some improvement in many children's lives. The mental scars of the conflict remain across the country and all areas of children's lives are effected by continuing instability.
A new report, Taking Stock: Afghanistan Women and Girls Seven Years On, from the international rights group Womankind Worldwide says that Afghanistan remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be female. Seven years after the US and the UK liberated Afghan women from the oppressive Taliban regime, Womankind says life for most Afghan women and girls has not improved, and form many life has actually grown worse since the war. According to the report, 8 out of 10 women are affected by domestic violence; over 60% of all marriages are forced; and half of all girls are married before the age of 16. Maternal mortality rates (one in six women dies in childbirth) are the highest in the world alongside Sierra Leone. The report also states that Afghanistan is the only country in the world to have a higher suicide rate among women over that of men.
“Women in Afghanistan are working to tackle these issues by supporting individuals affected by violence and promoting legal reform — but they urgently need more support,” said Womankind Worldwide's Director, Sue Turrell.
The report also states that laws which where introduced to protect women are not being properly enforced, and that the process of including females in the country's social and political life has been unacceptably slow.
On March 26th children across Afghanistan will begin a new school year, and this year “the Education Ministry expects some 6.5 million children — some 35 percent of them girls — to attend schools across the country. Historically, that's a record number of students, ministry spokesman Zuhur Afghan (RFE/RL).” However for many children this only serves to remind them of what they are missing, as the huge gap in opportunity, especially for women and girls in the country's north and south are quite clear. The main reason for the large scale difference is the varying pace of improvement and stability from one side of the country to the other. In the last two years the Taliban's influence and hold has been on the rise, leaving those in the south to lead their daily lives in fear of violence.
Many boys are now finding themselves amongst the ranks of the Taliban, leaving many to question if “Poverty is pushing youth into arms of Taliban?” With a weak infrastructure the Afghan government cannot cope with the shear numbers of those in need, and it is here that the Taliban has looked to reclaim the people.
“In our district many young guys join Taliban ranks for pocket money, a mobile phone or other financial incentives,” said Safiullah, a resident of Sangeen District in Helmand.
Afghanistan is also the worlds leading hotbed for opium production, in some regions, mostly rural, many mothers give children opium, some up to three times a day. Opium is used as a treatment for just about any illness, or to calm colicky children, and mothers remain oblivious to the health effects the drug has on their children's lives. Sadly education and awareness, let alone drug rehablitation prorgrams and centers, are far and few in between.
In other recent news a stunning report, Love, Fear and Discipline: Everyday Violence toward Children in Afghan Families, issued on February 24, 2008. The report was issued by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU), a Kabul-based think-tank, shows that the use of corporal punishment is seen as a mainstay of parenting. "Slapping, ear-pulling, verbal abuse, kicking, punching, beating with sticks or electricity cables or shoes," are most common according to the report. The report recommended that programs to show alternatives be put into place and that such programs recognize that most families are aware of the negative consequences of violence to children, stating that “campaigns should therefore focus on informing people about alternative parenting skills"; of which few parents admit they are unaware of. In addition the report highlighted on the use of child labor in the country, illustrating the need for children to work outside the home is the only form of survival for many families; despite the long term effects of children having little to no access to education.
What is the fate of the children of Afghanistan? The answer appears to be marred in tones of grey, however large the divide among the regions one thing is clear, and that is that children must be given a higher priority by state and local government agencies. Awareness campaigns and education must be put into effect to ensure and safeguard the future of all children, as should efforts to curtail the growing insurgency in the south. For now one must look at Afghanistan with a watchful, but hopeful eye.