Photo: UN

Children are bearing the brunt of the poverty crisis in Afghanistan, UNICEF warns

In a press conference in New York on Thursday, Fran Equiza, the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) representative in Afghanistan, shed light on the dire situation faced by children in Afghanistan amidst a staggering poverty crisis.

According to Equiza, roughly 90% of Afghanistan’s population is on the brink of poverty and children bear the brunt of it.

Warning that the situation is getting worse, Equiza remarked, “Because, in what is a deeply troubled country – grappling with humanitarian catastrophe, climate-related disasters, and egregious human rights abuses – too many people have forgotten that Afghanistan is a children’s rights crisis.”

Equiza further revealed that this year alone, an estimated 2.3 million children in Afghanistan will confront acute malnutrition, of which 875,000 require treatment for severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition.

Highlighting the gravity of the situation, he added, “Around 840,000 pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are likely to experience acute malnutrition, jeopardizing their ability to give their babies the best start in life.”

The UNICEF representative emphasized that while the war in Afghanistan had a partial cessation, the persistent legacy of decades-long conflict continued to subject children to “violations of their rights” on a daily basis, in the most appalling ways.

He said that Afghanistan stands as one of the world’s most heavily “weapons-contaminated countries,” where the majority of casualties are children. “preliminary data suggests that 134 children were killed or maimed by explosive devices between January and March of this year.” 

Equiza expressed, “Many of those killed and maimed are children collecting scrap metal to sell. Because that’s what poverty does. It compels you to send your children to work – not because you want to, but because you have to.” Trapped in the cycle of poverty, an estimated 1.6 million Afghan children, some as young as six, are forced into hazardous labor conditions, working in dangerous conditions just to help their parents put food on the table.

Lamenting the deprivation of girls’ education in Afghanistan, Equiza denounced the attack on children’s right to learn, highlighting that education was once a beacon of hope.

He called upon the international community to bolster support, revealing that UNICEF currently has a mere 22% of the required funds for 2023.

Since the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan, poverty rates, unemployment, and involuntary migration have skyrocketed. During this period, girls have been barred from schools and universities, exacerbating the already dire circumstances faced by children in the country.