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Afghanistan As A Safe Haven For Children

Heading to Piccadilly Circus?
Heading to Piccadilly Circus?
How can a country that has gone through three decades of war and suffers rampant poverty, illiteracy, terrorism, and a booming illegal drug trade be a safe heaven for children?

NATO’s top civilian in Afghanistan, Mark Sedwill, set off a firestorm this week when he said Afghan "children are probably safer in Kabul than they would be in London, or New York, or Glasgow, or many other cities.”

Ambassador Sedwill’s comments came as Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) released its latest report (in Pashto) on conditions for children in the country. Based on a survey targeting 2,400 children throughout the country, the commission’s findings are enough to make one cringe.

Researchers found a 20 percent increase in cases of sexual abuse against children in the first half of 2010. 13 percent of respondents had no access whatsoever to education and at least 30 percent do not have even cursory access to healthcare facilities. In addition, earlier this year, Afghanistan’s Ministry for Counter Narcotics reported that at least 60,000 Afghan youth suffer from some form of drug addiction.

“Child abuse in Afghanistan rose to a dreadful level in the first half of this year,” one AIHRC official recently told Radio Azadi.

Hammeda Barmaky, an official with the AIHRC who worked on the survey, told me that nearly 150 of the respondents reported being victims of child marriages.

“In many cases, children are forced to marry people at least 30 years older than them,” she said.

As one little boy -- who works as a garbage collector in Kabul -- tells Radio Azadi, “Some people hit us and call us ‘worthless,’ but one has to earn bread.”

Sounds like London.

- Freshta Jalalzai