The UK must not forget the children of Afghanistan
The lives of boys and girls in Afghanistan have been turned upside down since the Taliban took control of the country a year ago today.
Progress in children’s survival rates, education, and in tackling poverty have been lost. The reduction of aid, sanctions, capital flight and the collapse of the banking sector led to an economic crisis which has plunged many families into poverty – with disastrous consequences for children.
Over the past year so much has happened both at home and abroad, but we can all remember the heart-breaking images and stories that we saw and heard during that dark period. At the time it was the focus of global attention, and yet while our attention has since been diverted, the situation has got drastically worse.
If we continue to look the other way, more boys and girls will lose their childhoods to labour or marriage
New research from Save the Children on the current situation for Afghan children makes for alarming reading. More than a quarter of children surveyed had been internally displaced, a third were out of school (with nearly half of girls getting no education), and only 3 per cent of households said they were able to meet their basic needs.
Without urgent action from the United Kingdom and others, the situation will continue to deteriorate into complete catastrophe. So, we have decided to come together, a Labour MP and a Conservative MP, to ring the alarm bell and urge a refocus and renewed commitment to the children of Afghanistan.
We were both struck by the case of Parishad (pseudonym) who is 15 and lives in northern Afghanistan. She doesn’t go to school because her parents can’t afford to feed her and her siblings, let alone pay for her books and stationery. Parishad and her family were evicted from their home because they couldn’t pay the rent. The landlord offered to buy one of Parishad’s siblings, but her parents refused.
Sadly, Parishad is not a unique case, 88 per cent of children that Save the Children surveyed reported eating less than usual over the last year and 56 per cent of households described reducing their expenditure on health and education. While Parishad’s siblings avoided this fate, reports of desperate families selling their children either for labour or marriage are not uncommon.
The UK, with its long relationship with Afghanistan, and global influence as a leading member of the G7, permanent member of the UN Security Council, and one of the largest shareholders in the World Bank, has a key role to play in supporting Afghanistan. Yet politicians of all stripes have been guilty of taking their eye off the ball. We cannot let this continue, as the already precarious situation for Afghanistan's citizens, especially children, is at a tipping point.
The new prime minister and foreign secretary must demonstrate renewed commitment to these vulnerable children, through immediate humanitarian funding and working to revive the banking system and support the spiraling economy. If we continue to look the other way, children’s lives will be lost, and more boys and girls will lose their childhoods to labour or marriage. We will be focusing our attention on this when we return to Parliament, and we urge all our colleagues to do the same.
Sarah Champion is the Labour MP for Rotherham and chair of the International Development Committee. Anthony Mangnall is the Conservative MP for Totnes and chair of Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative APPG.
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