The plight of the children of Afghanistan
By DENISE HARRIS HOPPENHAUER
On Oct. 11 President Bush asked the children of America to help the children of Afghanistan by donating $1 to the America’s Fund for Afghan Children. He also said that “one in three Afghan children is an orphan and that almost half are malnourished. He went on to say “their country has been through a great deal of war and suffering.”
What he did not tell you was how serious the plight of the children in Afghanistan is. For more than 20 years Afghanistan has been at war, and no one has suffered more than the Afghan children have. Civil war, the Soviet Union, and the Taliban have decimated the country. For more than two generations their lives have been centered around war, hunger, homelessness, pain, grief and loss, fear, and struggle for survival.
According to Save the Children, “the social indicators for Afghan children is among the worst in the world.” (This is the general consensus among the international aid communities including UNICEF and the United Nations.) And many of Afghanistan’s children do not survive. United Nations figures show that “a quarter of all children born in Afghanistan will die before their fifth birthday from preventable causes.” This is the fifth worst mortality rate in the world.
More than one million Afghan children are orphans. In 1999, there were an estimated 850 children in a single orphanage in Kabul. There are not enough orphanage workers to take care of the children because it is illegal for women to work. There is not enough money to provide basic necessities such as fuel, medicine, clothing, shoes, or blankets, and basic survival is difficult. The children are not educated.
There are no international adoption programs in Afghanistan or most Middle Eastern countries. Families in the United States adopt 80 percent of orphans adopted in the world.
More than one million Afghanistan children suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological disorder caused by severe trauma. For Afghan children this would included witnessing horrific acts of violence during fighting due to skirmishes or war, death of a family member, people killed by rocket and artillery fire, and the viewing of such dead bodies. The children of Afghanistan live in constant fear, and many children do not believe that they will live to become adults.
Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world, is also home to one of the world’s largest populations of child soldiers. (Children between 7 and 18 who actively participate in combat.) According to CNN World News, “among the chief reasons for the participation of children in combat is poverty.”
“There are more than 500,000 disabled children in Afghanistan and more than 400,000 children who are amputees because of landmines.” There are an estimated 10 to 15 million land mines in Afghanistan which explode at a rate of 20 to 25 a day. Children are particularly vulnerable to these often pretty, brightly colored, sometimes shiny, objects of death and disfigurement, which attract children to them when they are found either lying around, half-buried or unearthed.
Landmines are sometimes shaped like pineapples or disguised as toys. Most often, children are the victims of land mines. When they explode they are often fatal or severely damaging to children.
There are over 6 million Afghan refugees. More than any other people in the world. “The death toll in refugee camps is one in every three are children.” Many of the poor and destitute in Afghanistan are widows and children. Women, under the control of the Taliban, are not allowed to work, which means they have no income and cannot provide basic necessities such as clothing, food, and shelter for their children.
“On Sept. 20 the United Nations released statistics that showed that 7.5 million women and children are at risk of starvation in Afghanistan.” Winter is approaching and many relief agencies, including the United Nations, have or are planning on suspending operations in this country. Winter in Afghanistan is very harsh, and temperatures can reach minus 36 degrees centigrade in winter. Death from severe cold and disease follow the threat of starvation.
Help the Afghan Children, a nonprofit organization that helps provide relief for the children of Afghanistan, reports that “the problem is so large that no one organization could ever possibly provide enough assistance.” They have not discontinued their humanitarian efforts.
It is critical to the children of Afghanistan that humanitarian relief efforts continue. However, in order to be effective, they must be increased not decreased. The social, economic, educational, and medical structure of the country is either ineffective or nonexistent. The future of Afghanistan hangs in the balance, and their children are that future.
America’s Fund for Afghan Children
c/o The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20500
Denise Harris Hoppenhauer is an adoptive parent and the founder of the Greenville Adoption Playgroup. She is a member of the Adoption Advocates of America Consumer Protection and Advocacy Network.
References for this article include CNN World News, WYFF Channel 4, Save the Children USA, Help the Afghan Children, IPS World News, UNICEF and the United Nations.