UN Seeks Focus on War-Devastated Afghan Children
By Irwin Arieff
Friday November 9 4:44 PM ET
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A U.N. envoy called on world governments on Friday to pay more attention to the needs of Afghanistan's children, whose lives have largely been defined by 23 years of war.
``It is important to provide hope and rehabilitation to these children in order to make them a constructive force in the rebuilding of their country,'' said Olara Otunnu, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for children and armed conflict.
Otunnu told reporters governments must look at the children's immediate as well as long-term needs, focusing on protecting them during the current military campaign, finding them needed shelter, food and water, and ultimately providing them with an education, vocational training and jobs.
He was particularly disturbed by reports that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban relied heavily on child soldiers. ``All levels of pressure must be mobilized to stop this practice,'' he said.
The United Nations considers Afghanistan its worst humanitarian crisis, estimating that as many as 7.5 million people face hunger and homelessness in the region as a U.S. military campaign seeks to punish the Taliban for sheltering Osama bin Laden.
Washington blames the Saudi-born militant for masterminding Sept. 11 suicide airliner attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in which thousands died.
Even before the U.S. raids began, some 6 million Afghans depended on international relief programs for food and shelter, according to the world body. Afghanistan has suffered from more than two decades of internal conflict, three years of severe drought and a collapsed economy.
Otunnu said about a quarter of the country's children died before age five, giving Afghanistan the world's fourth worst child mortality rate. About half suffered from malnutrition and three-quarters had no access to health care or clean water.
Some 40 percent of Afghanistan's children have lost at least one parent and about 700,000 of its women are war widows, he added.
``We must do everything to assure that this is the last generation of Afghan children exposed to war,'' he said. ``It is all our hope that the present phase of the Afghan crisis -- that the war -- will be short-lived and the United Nations and other actors will be able to come in a major way and start work on the rehabilitation of Afghanistan.''
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