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Afghanistan is among 196 state parties to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In essence, the treaty is an insignia of Human Rights particularly focused on that of a child’s. The main components of the treaty revolve around the welfare of Children. It also sets out the framework that protects the civil, political, economical, social, health and cultural rights of children. The convention also defines a child as any human being who is under the age of eighteen[1], unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation.[2]

The Government of Afghanistan ratified the UNCRC in 1994 and in pursuance made significant amelioration towards improving access to health services and education for girls and boys in the span of 15 years and developed the general welfare of children. Although the constitution of Afghanistan adopted in 2004 protects and guarantees progressive international Human Rights standards, there is not much direct reference to specific rights of children.

Violence coupled with poverty formulated an atmosphere for children to be abused.

There has been constant unrest that has had a negative impact on families and communities. This resulted in children being in situations where they face an increased risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation and being subjected to child labor. Furthermore, according to a press release by UNICEF[3], in Afghanistan, one in five children die before reaching their fifth birthday and five million children are not in school, three million of which are girls. Only six percent of children are registered at birth which means the majority are without legal protection that would allow them to seek educational and health services. There was a dire need for a law specially designed for protecting the rights of children within the country. 

In March 2019, a major step was taken and Afghanistan’s parliament had approved and adopted the “The Children Protection Act”. The act consists of 16 chapters and 108 articles. The act was a response to the imperative need of legislation that was in line with the UNCRC for ensuring that the fundamental rights of every child in Afghanistan were protected and that the law would come to aid any child whose rights have been breached. This allowed the government to effectively strategize and oversee its implementation through government agencies and saw the creation of a “Technical Committee” on the protection of Child Rights that was in charge of ensuring legal compliance. The act had laid down and paved the road for the betterment of children in the long run, and is constantly monitoring the situation of children around the country to see that their needs are being met. 

Objectives and Rights of a Child under “The Child Protection Act”

The Child Protection Act supports and strengthens structures and mechanisms with an aim to institutionalize Child Rights governance. It paved the way for creating awareness, knowledge and skills among government and civil agencies with an overall focus 

to promote and protect children’s rights who are considered to be among the most vulnerable members of society.

The main objectives of the enactment are undoubtedly the securement of children’s rights in Afghanistan. However, to secure those rights, a series of actions ought to be taken by the government and relevant agencies. These have been highlighted by the act. It is clear that legislative and policy frameworks alone will not guarantee the absolute protection of child rights.

Awareness is an important element that needs to be used by the government to ensure the maximum effectiveness of the act. This would allow the government to employ preventive measures such as designing public awareness campaigns on the fundamental rights of children to increase public literacy on child rights. This is particularly important as not many are aware of the rights of children and not many take the issue very seriously.

The creation of coordination among the relevant governmental and non-governmental organizations activities to ensure children’s rights are protected in accordance with the provisions of this law is another fundamental objective of the act. This is very important has inorder for its proper implementation, it is of utmost importance that resources and intelligence are put together. In addition, it is vital that there be specific training for all relevant professionals with a duty of care towards children, including all law enforcement officials, national security forces, and education and health personnel.

To better understand the situation on the ground, the law requests that information on juvenile cases from social organizations, the police authorities, attorney office, the courts and the child protection network of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs be made known to the Technical Committee and Governmental agencies that work to ensure the law is properly implemented. Relevant statistics and figures of the vulnerable, displaced, labor, disabled, children who are not protected by the law and those without guardians must be collected so that working agencies may take action and reach out to them.

Rights of a Child Under the Children Protection Act

The main rights of a child are enshrined under Chapter 3, Article 12 (1) of the Child Protection Act. it is universal and in harmony with UNHCR requirements. It covers everything from mental rights to physical rights. The first rights of a child are with regards to the identity of the child, the law requires that every child must be given a name, a nationality, identity and parentage and that they must be registered at birth. Registration will equip every child with legal protection and will allow them to seek state services. Every child must also be breastfed by the Child’s mother and there can be no discrimination in this matter.

With regards to access of state health services, it is the right of every child to have unobstructed access to health services unless this obstruction is caused by factors beyond governmental control, in addition, the right to proper vaccination against diseases such as Polio and other preventive health services related to the health and wellbeing of the child. The child must also be given sufficient amounts of entertainment such as playing outdoors and recreation services.

The child must also be protected from all forms of violence mentally and physically, including all forms of sexual exploitation and it is the duty of the police and the attorney general to make sure that the ones engaged in violence against children are brought before the law and tried accordingly. The law also allocated for the child access to a child fund when there is a need for it in order to assist the child in securing his basic needs in the case whereby the child is poor and unable to get his essential necessities.

The child has a right to have access to learning facilities and schools, hence why it is important that every child is registered at birth so that he may legally have access to education. Many children in Afghanistan are without birth certificates and hence are not enrolled in public schools. According to a Human Rights Watch report, in 2015 the Afghan government report stated that more than 8 million children were in school, 39 percent of whom were girls. In December 2016, the minister of education announced that the real number of children in school was 6 million.[4] It is important that children make it to school as this will allow them to develop their mental and intellectual capabilities.

The child has a right to be protected against all forms of economic exploitation and protected against forced and heavy labor. The reality is however that the majority of children are forced to work due to extreme poverty in dangerous conditions, one that puts the child’s life in danger. Many are employed in jobs that can result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards.[5] At least a quarter of Afghan children between ages 5 and 14 work for a living or to help their families[6] as the sole breadwinner. The Afghan government has made a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor by enacting Child Labour Laws.

With regard to recruitment in the military, the law prohibits such for a child. Military forces and personnel target children to be trained as soldiers for a variety of reasons. Firstly, in terms of psychology, children are easy to manipulate, scare, and torment into committing acts of grave violence. Many children are seduced by armed forces into joining the military, with tales of adventure and glamourize violence circling Afghan communities. Moreover, many children in Afghanistan are orphans and, in turn, are lacking economic opportunities. Some are motivated by the payment incentives provided by the military and, in turn, voluntarily join the military. However, the fact remains that many children are kidnapped and forced at gunpoint into taking up arms.

Restrictions on implementing The Child Protection Act

Afghanistan has a population of approximately 30 million and half of which are below the age of 18. Most of them are exposed to a situation of violence and abuse amidst the ongoing fighting coupled with a poor economy. Although there is a law that protects children in the country as discussed earlier, the government still faces numerous challenges that restrict the full implementation of the law.

Poor economic conditions and lack of security are causing many children to run away from the country. Large numbers of Afghan children as young as 12 escape abroad to Europe in search of a better life. Most of them are unaccompanied and this makes them vulnerable. If they are detained and deported back to Afghanistan, it makes it difficult for them to be reunited with their families and hence they become easy targets for smugglers and human traffickers.

Corruption in Afghanistan is another major obstacle that prevents children from getting legal protection. Many in the country do not trust law enforcement officers. Most of the families of these victims complained to the police but never had their cases referred to the attorney’s office. According to child rights activists in the country, when reports are made, local police units generally fail to pursue these reports, preferring to refer them to tribal mediation instead. As a result, he said, only ten to 15 cases were registered each year. Many claims that the police were reluctant to pursue cases and that widespread corruption had made it difficult to get access to justice.

Lack of transparency on government revenues and finances means that law agencies do not receive appropriate funding. Reports from the World Bank show that the Central government of Afghanistan is making progress on revenue but there is a lack of evidence to suggest that it is using these funds effectively or with less corruption. Hence, there is a lack of financial support for the enforcement of law and training of personnel who are involved in its implementation effectively or with less corruption.

Afghanistan’s fragile Justice system is another major obstacle to the enforcement of the law. This means that not everyone is treated fairly. The majority of Afghans do not have access to judicial institutions and lack of justice has caused destabilization. Political influence in judicial proceedings has impaired the Afghans trust in the justice system. Most of the time, the accused gets away and is not brought before the court for trial. Many of Afghanistan’s courts are not functional and this has impacted law enforcement severely.

And finally the ongoing war with the Taliban. Although the United States and the Taliban signed a peace deal, the Taliban continues causing chaos within the country. The fight has caused a drastic and traumatizing effect on the lives of children and has destroyed family institutions. This makes it difficult for the children to seek help from enforcement agencies as they are stopped by several obstacles such as being in a remote area and lack of communication with authorities.

In conclusion, considering the numerous challenges of implementing the act, Afghanistan has overcome many obstacles and has made significant progress. It is strongly suggested that one of the main ways for creating awareness on Child Rights is that Afghanistan incorporates within its school system a subject that teaches children the basic rights they have under the law. This would go a long way in preventing children from being abused and forced into labor. If the children are aware of the fact that what is being done to them is contrary to the law, they are better equipped to refuse and object the act and this will allow them to respond quickly to the relevant authorities.


[1] https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx Article 1

[2]  “Convention on the Rights of the Child”. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Archived from the original on 13 January 2015. Retrieved 20 January 2015.

[3] https://www.unicef.org/media/media_56977.html

[4]https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/10/17/i-wont-be-doctor-and-one-day-youll-be-sick/girls-access-education-afghanistan

[5] US Department of Labor, “Child Labor in Afghanistan: A Four-Province Study in Kabul, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Balkh,” May 30, 2008, http://www.dol.gov/ilab/ICLRE/Downloads/Research/Report/Afghanistan_Research_Report.pdf (accessed March 2, 2016), pp. 9-11.

[6] Government of Afghanistan, Central Statistics Organization, “Afghanistan Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey,” http://cso.gov.af/Content/files/AMICS.pdf (accessed January 17, 2016), p. 125.

Author

  • Zabihullah Saleem is a law student at Ahmad Ibrahim Faculty Of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia.