Jalalabad, Afghanistan – Last month, in Afghanistan, a new child protection unit – the sixth in the country- opened in the National Police Recruitment Centre in Jalalabad, a city located about 150 km east of the capital, Kabul.
The main objective of this unit is simple but crucial: to prevent the recruitment of children into the Afghan National Police.
In a country where birth registration is not available to everyone, determining the age of police recruits can be challenging. Late last year, the Government endorsed new age assessment guidelines to do just that. They were officially launched in February during an event organized at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul.
“The Afghan Government is committed to aligning with the provisions of international human rights instruments, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Hekmat Karzai, Afghanistan’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, during the event.
The Afghan Government is also committed to reaching the objective of the global campaign ‘Children, Not Soldiers’, which aims to end and prevent underage recruitment in national security forces in conflict.
In 2011, the Government signed an Action Plan with the United Nations to end and prevent the recruitment of children in Afghan national security forces –the National and Local Police were both identified by the Secretary-General for the recruitment and use of children. The child protection units and age assessment guidelines are among the notable progress in its implementation.
During her mission to Afghanistan in February, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, visited the child protection unit located at the National Police recruitment centre in Herat.
“The staff told me how useful the new age assessment guidelines are to their work, and they talked about the importance of having people like them, trained to identify and turn away underage recruits,” said the Special Representative. They also described another essential aspect of their work: Sensitizing colleagues and the population on the importance of protecting children from recruitment and the impact of conflict in general.
“Teenagers often come to the recruitment centre because they are desperate to find a job,” one of the women working at the Herat child protection unit told Leila Zerrougui. “They don’t realize that the work of a police officer entails a level of risk that is not appropriate or acceptable for a child.”
Promoting reintegration programmes and alternatives, such as better access to education and economic opportunities, is key to help impoverished communities turn the page on the recruitment and use of children.
Back in Jalalabad, Colonel Abdul Muhammad, Head of the Afghan National Police Human Rights Office, briefed participants at the opening of the new child protection unit on its importance, while Fazel Ahmad Shirzad, Chief of Police, said the unit will further strengthen mechanisms to prevent child recruitment.
The first child protection unit was established in 2011 and, by all accounts, their staff has kept hundreds of children away from the national security forces. The Government wants to set up these units to serve the country’s 34 provinces. The international community is encouraged to support this initiative as it will contribute to the success of the Action Plan.