Envoy urges attention on Afghan children
By Kim Se-jeong
Afghan Ambassador to Seoul Mohammad Yunos Farman invited 10 elementary school students to his residence on June 9.
Wearing a red and blue stripe shirt identical to those worn by the children, Farman spent the evening telling them about Afghanistan, answering their questions, sharing Afghan food and having his photo taken with them. The highlight of the day was appointing them as “Angels for Afghan children.”
The ambassador said they are a constant reminder of Afghan Children who suffer enormously from ongoing violence in the country.
“They (Afghan children) are the future of Afghanistan,” he told The Korea Times during an interview on June 20. “This is an area that needs more and more attention. We have to do more. We’ve got to plan to look after our next generation even before they’re born.”
Decades of war and conflict in Afghanistan has heavily impacted the lives of children. They were forced to leave their home and hometown. There were no schools to attend in new settlements, and little food to eat.
Daniel Toole, regional director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, said in 2009 “Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born.”
According to a non-government organization Child Victims of War based in the UK, in 2010 alone, a total of 1,396 Afghan children were killed or injured in violence. This number was a 35 percent rise from 2009 and took into account only those who were displaced inside Afghanistan.
However, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees shows that the number of refugees living outside Afghanistan is almost 2.6 million, including children.
Making the situation even worse, those displaced children are vulnerable to recruitment by armed groups, such as the Taliban, the Haqqani network, Hezb-i-Islami and Jamat Sunat al-Dawa Salafia.
“Talibanism was born out of those refugee camps. Children with no education and no food would be asked, ‘we give you something to eat, a Kalashnikov, and a Holy book of Quran, you go and fight against enemy of Islam. If you die, you go directly to paradise,’”
said the ambassador.
The current political unrest in Afghanistan dates back to the 1970s. Due to tension between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, where its troops fought to maintain control for almost 10 years.
The withdrawal of Soviet forces in 1989, as the ambassador pointed out, left Afghanistan in chaos and without the rule of law. These factors combined with a lack of strong government empowered the Taliban to take hold of the country.
In 2001, the Sept. 11 attacks in New York led to the intervension of the international community including the United States in Afghanistan with accordance of the United Nations’ resolution, in which forces cracked down on the Taliban continuing the cycle of violence.
He expressed gratitude for the international community’s contribution to national reconstruction efforts.
Korea has sent a 450-man Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) to Parwan Province.
According to Park Hae-yun, director general for Southeast Asia and Pacific Affairs at the foreign ministry, the PRT operates a kindergarten for local boys and girls, which is increasingly gaining popularity in the region. So far, 56 kids aged between five and eight have graduated from the kindergarten. Apart from the kindergarten, the PRT also has facilities offering vocational training for local adults.
As the deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops approaches, the South Korean government is also considering the fate of the PRT, the director general added.
The United States announced that its troops would completely withdraw from Afghanistan by 2014, a pledge followed by its allies.
Farman calls himself “part of a lucky generation.”
He was a happy kid, he said, who enjoyed hanging out in the crowded streets of Kabul. Pretty much every day, he was outside watching the sunset surrounded by other people.
He recalled a road trip from Kabul to Jalalabad where he got out of the car in the middle of the road to see a compelling view of the moon, without having to worry about getting shot or kidnapped.
The ambassador also recalls foreign tourists who drove to Kabul and spent weeks camping in the countryside.
The children are left to decide what to do to help their friends in Afghanistan, a member of the embassy staff who follows the development closely told The Korea Times. When they brainstorm, she said, adults who sponsor this initiative will find the resources
to make it come true.
Farman took a note of the children’s initiative to help Afghan children, and thanked them for it. But most of all, he wants the Korean kids he met to remember the positive aspects of Afghanistan.
“I want them to see Afghanistan as a peaceful country and a good place to visit.”