Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Plight of women and children continues, says UNICEF

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KABUL, 4 August (IRIN) - While Afghanistan moves from a state of emergency to a focus on development, the reality of the situation for women and children remains serious, UNICEF warned on Thursday in the capital Kabul.

"Infant mortality and under five mortality are very high, girls' enrolment is one of the lowest in the world and malnutrition affects almost half of the country's child population," Cecilia Lotse, the UN childrens agency's regional director for South Asia observed, adding that the maternal mortality continued to claim 1,600 women per every 100,000 births in the country.

Lotse, who oversees UNICEF's programmes in eight countries across the region, used the opportunity of her week-long visit to learn more about the specific situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.

"The objective reality is that all children are vulnerable but girl children are especially vulnerable," she noted, calling on the international community for further support.

An Afghan child today had a one in seven chance of dying before their first year as a result of illness and malnutrition. Moreover, one child in five died before his or her fifth birthday as a result of common, but preventable childhood diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, malaria, typhoid and others that could be prevented by simple immunisations and sanitary practices, she added.

Meanwhile, two out of every three girls remained at home (deprived of school) and were denied the intellectual stimulation and social development opportunities that were critical for their future development, the UNICEF official added.

Despite the return of several million children to school over the last three years, Lotse said girls' enrolment in secondary schools in Afghanistan was less than 10 percent.

"They [girls] often return home [leave school for good] to help the family - particularly when the mother is a widow," added. Additionally, the chances of an Afghan girl marrying early was much greater and 40 percent of Afghan women were married before the age of 18, with a third of these having children before they reached the age of 18.

"Afghan women don't live long lives and Afghanistan is maybe the one country in the world where women die before men," she claimed. "This represents a tremendous waste of human potential and a tremendous unfulfilled promise."

The UNICEF regional director called on all players in the country's rehabilitation process to prioritise investment in education to ensure an increase in the quality and access of health services to women.

"We must be serious about making the right investments that must pay particular attention to women," she maintained.

[ENDS]

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