December 13, 2007 07:00 ET

Continued Investments Needed for Afghan Children: UNICEF

UNICEF Canada CEO & President Returns from Field Trip to Afghanistan

TORONTO, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Dec. 13, 2007) - Following an eight-day field trip to Afghanistan, UNICEF Canada President and CEO Nigel Fisher says that while the security situation presents a challenge to programme delivery in many parts of the country, it is still possible to make a difference in the lives of Afghan children and their families through critical community-level interventions, including education and healthcare.

"Insecurity is a reality of life in many parts of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, Afghans remain determined to bring improvements for their country's children. But they cannot accomplish this without our help," said Fisher. "Our continued investments in Afghanistan are critical right now. By supporting improvements in health care delivery and in education for Afghan children and their families, we are helping them gain the life skills they need for a better future."

Fisher travelled to Afghanistan to see UNICEF programmes in schools, remote communities and health centres in the Kandahar and Kabul regions. UNICEF, a leading partner in development efforts in Afghanistan, is helping to improve the lives of millions of children by assisting them to go to school and by supporting life-saving healthcare services. Today, 12 December, an immunisation campaign in the five volatile south-western provinces is winding up, having vaccinated almost 1.2 million children under five against poliomyelitis, with the help of some 7,000 Afghan volunteers.

In Afghanistan, Fisher met with government ministers and officials at central, provincial and district levels, representatives of U.N. and bilateral agencies, and of both national and international non-governmental organizations. He also spoke with many ordinary Afghans. "Time and time again, Afghans, even in the insecure areas, reiterated their desire to have their children in school," Fisher said.

In addition to visiting rural communities, schools and health facilities, Fisher attended a Grand Jirga (assembly) on Education in Kandahar, called by the Minister of Education, Haneef Atmar and UNICEF, to discuss with community leaders how to accelerate - and protect - schooling for the province's children, both girls and boys. More than 600 community leaders and representatives from every district in the province were given the opportunity to voice their concerns. "They want more support for education and they want to work with partners to ensure that their schools are safe. These leaders understand that education is the key to ensuring that their children have hope for the future," Fisher said.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, UNICEF has been one of the Afghan Ministry of Education's lead partners in the reconstruction of the national education system. UNICEF supported the Ministry in rolling out the largest-ever back-to-school effort in March 2002. Today, six million children are enrolled in school in Afghanistan. Forty per cent of primary school students are girls, an incredible achievement considering girls' enrolment was a mere 3 to 6 per cent during the Taliban era - and that was in secret home schools, out of sight of Taliban authorities.

Despite tremendous progress, gender disparity in education remains a serious concern; the school completion rate for girls is low, while the literacy rate for young women is only 14 per cent, compared to 50 per cent for young men. "The young female students I met are eager to learn and eager to continue their education," said Fisher. "We need to ensure these girls are given the opportunity to complete primary school and go on to secondary school and even college or university."

While UNICEF continues to bring real results to Afghan children and their families Fisher says, there is still more work that needs to be done.

"After this visit to Afghanistan, I am under no illusion about the current security challenges and that the level of overall reconstruction falls short of where it should be. However, I am also confident that the contribution of UNICEF and Canadians at large is welcomed and is making a real difference," Fisher said. "We must continue to invest in Afghan children. This is no time to turn our backs on Afghanistan."

UNICEF Canada is accepting donations to help further UNICEF programming in Afghanistan. Donations can be made at www.unicef.ca, by phone at 1-800-567-4483, or by mail at UNICEF Canada, 2200 Yonge St., Suite 1100, Toronto, ON, M4S 2C6. Cheques should be made payable to UNICEF Canada - General Emergency Fund.

To read Fisher's daily blogs from Kabul, the Panjshir Valley and Kandahar, visit www.unicef.ca.


UNICEF is the world's leader for children, working in 156 countries and territories to save, protect and enhance the lives of girls and boys. UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, promotes quality basic education, protects children from violence, exploitation and AIDS, and is the world's largest provider of vaccines for developing nations. A global leader in emergencies with six decades of on-the-ground experience, UNICEF saves and rebuilds children's lives in natural disasters and conflict. UNICEF is funded entirely by voluntary contributions from individuals, businesses, foundations, schools, associations and governments.

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