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IRC warns of children's crisis in Afghanistan

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  • The IRC warns the youngest Afghans are paying the price of escalating crisis as UNAMA reports over 10,000 casualties in 2017
  • Education under particular threat as Taliban expand active reach to 70% of Afghan territory - with needs especially acute for girls
  • IRC staff face intimidation by the Taliban or other armed groups even in efforts to screen children as young as five for malnutrition
  • IRC reaffirms its commitment to stay and deliver to those most in need - especially children - despite high-level threat environment

With over 10,000 civilian casualties reported in Afghanistan in 2017 - over 30% of which are children - the International Rescue Committee (IRC) warns today of a severe children’s crisis underway as the youngest Afghans bear the biggest brunt of this escalating conflict.

The over 3,000 child casualties reported today by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan represents a serious deterioration in humanitarian conditions, as rising insecurity imperils the delivery of life-saving aid, especially for the most vulnerable. Children constitute 70% of the Afghan population - and 40% of Afghan children are stunted due to malnutrition and disease, impacting their mental and physical development and chances at productive futures. Even efforts to screen them is a difficult feat, as IRC staff face intimidation by the Taliban or other armed groups in hard-to-access areas.

Under particular threat, as the Taliban expand to be openly active in 70% of Afghan territory, is the ability of the 3.5 million Afghan children currently out-of-school to receive any education. Missing vital years of education is putting children's safety at risk and is exposing them further to toxic stress - which inhibits their physical and mental development. With 70% of the Afghan population living in extreme poverty, child labor is rampant, as 15% of school-aged children work rather than learning in classrooms.

The IRC’s Afghanistan Country Director Vicki Aken remarked: “These new numbers are unspeakable. And for every child killed in this conflict, thousands more live in fear of want and need. Education in emergencies is a life-saving and life-changing intervention - helping children recover and cope with continuing adversity. Almost four decades of conflict has led to the education of successive generations of Afghan refugee children in particular being disrupted or forgotten. We face the threat of a lost generation in a population that has already suffered enough. With half the Afghan population living in Taliban-controlled or influenced areas, the prerogative for humanitarian agencies to provide assistance in contested areas is all the greater - and the IRC reaffirms its commitment to stay and deliver to those most in need, especially children.”

Two-thirds of Afghan girls do not go to school -  a particularly acute need  in hard-to-reach areas out of government control. With a 70% national illiteracy rate and an 80-98% illiteracy rate for women - their education having been totally prohibited by the Taliban during their rule- an entire generation has already never set foot in school. Afghan returnees told the IRC that their dreams are for their children to be educated: “I don’t want them to step in my shoes.”

Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest and most violent countries - but funding for aid has been declining due to fatigue and the emergence of other global crises, further impacting the delivery of life-saving aid by humanitarian agencies. A further increase in need is also expected this year, with the projected return of 700,000 documented and undocumented Afghan returnees, increased violence by armed groups such as the Taliban in the run up to fall elections, and an impending drought; the IRC has therefore launched an emergency response requiring a minimum of $9 million over the next year to meet the basic needs of thousands of crisis-affected Afghans.

To increase access to education for children affected by the conflict, the IRC will be establishing 400 community-based education (CBE) classrooms - often the only chance at an education for Afghan girls - in 2018 to allow 23,000 Afghan children to safely access education. The IRC is also ensuring that at least 50% of the community-based teachers are female, as well as incorporating appropriate bathroom facilities for girls.

“With the support of the international community, significant strides have been made in Afghanistan since 2001 - including a near tenfold increase in enrolled students. Increased conflict, targeting of civilians, and declining international support threaten to reverse those gains. The future of these countries depends on the education of its children,” Aken added.  

Photographs from Afghanistan are available for use and can be found here.

Note to editors:

The IRC has been supporting Afghan men, women, and children since 1980, working inside Afghanistan since 1988. The IRC is currently continuing to improve the lives of over 1 million displaced people and returnees affected by conflict, natural disasters and poverty in 4000 communities in 9 provinces - including Nangarhar, Herat, Helmand and Kabul - of Afghanistan, which face great insecurities and host some of the largest vulnerable populations of IDPs and returnees. The IRC reached 600,000 Afghans last year alone. 99 percent of IRC’s 500 staff are Afghan nationals.

About the IRC

The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises, helping to restore health, safety, education, economic wellbeing, and power to people devastated by conflict and disaster. Founded in 1933 at the call of Albert Einstein, the IRC is at work in over 40 countries and 28 offices across the U.S. helping people to survive, reclaim control of their future, and strengthen their communities. Learn more at www.rescue.org and follow the IRC on Twitter & Facebook.