Senior United Nations officials in Afghanistan welcomed the passing of legislation earlier this week by the Afghan Lower House of Parliament to criminalize underage recruitment in the Afghan National Security Forces as a significant step forward in protecting the rights of Afghan children.
“The United Nations welcomes the Lower House’s decision to pass legislation criminalizing the recruitment of child soldiers in the Afghan National Security Forces,” said Ján Kubiš, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). “I fully expect that the Upper House will move it forward, and that the signature of H.E. President Ashraf Ghani will manifest his strong commitments to uphold human rights, recognizing, in particular, that children are among the most vulnerable Afghans and deserve every protection that can be afforded to them,” he added. The passing of the legislation by the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament follows the endorsement by the Government of Afghanistan earlier this year of a 15-point road map to implement an action plan signed with the UN in 2011 to end the recruitment of Afghans under 18 years old into the country’s security forces.
The measures outlined in the road map include the criminalization of the recruitment and use of children by security forces; the development of a policy to ensure that children arrested and detained on national security charges are treated in line with international juvenile justice standards; and improved age-verification mechanisms. The road map was supported by UNAMA and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in their roles as co-chairs of the UN-led Country Task Force on Children and Armed Conflict. “The recruitment of children has been a real concern in Afghanistan, and should be stopped without delay,” said UNAMA’s Human Rights Director, Georgette Gagnon, who is also Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.“This law should advance the road map for the prevention of underage recruitment into armed forces and, most importantly, should advance the protection of children’s rights in Afghanistan,” Ms. Gagnon added. “The United Nations also urges all armed groups to halt the recruitment of children, as required under international law.”On 12 May 2014, the United Nations launched a new booklet highlighting the obligations of all parties to armed conflict in the country to respect and promote the rights of children under international law. Photo: Fardin Waezi / UNAMA. A recently released report on children and armed conflict from the world body’s chief, Ban Ki-moon, highlighted issues regarding child recruitment in Afghanistan. According to the report, in 2013 alone, nearly 100 boys – some as young as eight years old – were recruited into armed forces, including in state security. Since 1998, more than 100,000 children associated with armed forces or armed groups have received UNICEF assistance to return to school and receive education and vocational training, with the ultimate goal of providing the children with future opportunities for income-generating work. Congratulating the Government on moving the legislation forward, UNICEF’s Officiating Representative in Afghanistan, Lakshmi Narayan Balaji, pledged continued support to the Government for the full implementation of the action plan to prevent and end underage recruitment. “UNICEF is committed to jointly working with the Government on long-term capacity-building of security personnel to ensure that they have adequate knowledge and that child-friendly policing methods exist for protection of children who come in contact with the justice system,” he said, adding that UNICEF will continue its efforts to support critical child-protection services.