AFGHANISTAN: Children's Rights in the UN Special Procedures' Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.

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Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination


Country visit: 4 - 9 April 2009
Report published: 14 June 2010

Killings: The Working Group received information about the involvement of Private Military Security Companies (PMSC) contractors in robberies, kidnapping, interrogation, torture of detainees and irregular and abusive house inspections. The Ministry of the Interior confirmed cases of excessive use of force.

In one case, local private security contractors are alleged to have shot seven adult males and injured one child in what appear to have been extrajudicial killings. On 27 October 2008, the international military forces (IMF) and Anti-Government elements (AGEs) engaged in an exchange of fire in the Haft Asyab area, Saydabad District, Wardak Province, which killed 11 AGEs and injured 12 others.36 During the fighting, private security contractors working for the RWA Road and Construction Engineering Company entered Hakim Khail village in the Haft Asyab area and, according to witnesses, entered a house, forced out the adult males inside and shot them one by one. A child who tried to run away was allegedly shot in the back.37 Other reports state that five people were killed by IMF air strikes during the operation. No information has been provided on whether this incident has been fully investigated and anyone prosecuted. (paragraphs 59, 60)


UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston


Country visit: 4-15 May 2008
Report published: 6 May 2009

  • Attacks on school students: One Kunar witness told of a letter justifying attacks on local school students and on all non-Muslims. (para 27, pp.15-16)
  • Honour killings: Philip Alston heard an account of an honour killing of a boy and girl who allegedly had sexual relations outside of marriage. No family members complained to the police. The police knew about the deaths, but did not investigate, claiming that they could not do so without a complaint from the family. Mr Alston recommended that these so-called "honour killings", which occur in very large numbers, must be treated as the murders that they so clearly are. Police should investigate such cases whether or not the family has made a specific complaint to the police. (paras 60, 87 pp.30-31, 35)


UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Yakin Ertürk


Country visit: 9-16 July 2005
Report published: 15 February 2006

  • Education: Four million children have enrolled in school since the fall of the Taliban. However, the primary school enrolment rate is among the lowest in the world, and only half as many girls are enrolled in primary education as boys. Afghanistan's report on the Millennium Development Goals gives great prominence to targets relating to enrolment of girls in primary and secondary education. (paras 18, 51, pp.7, 14)
  • Child and forced marriages: The practice of child marriages and forced marriages are at the root of most violence that takes place in the household. The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) estimates that between 60 and 80 per cent of all marriages in Afghanistan are forced, and approximately 57 per cent of girls are married before the age of 16. Economic reasons play a significant role in such marriages. The custom of bride money may motivate families to barter off their daughter as young as six or seven, with the understanding that the actual marriage is delayed until the child reaches puberty. However, reports indicate that this is rarely observed, and that little girls may be sexually violated not only by the groom but also by older men in the family, particularly if the groom is a child too. Following the workshop "Elimination of Violence against Women: Preventing Child and Forced Marriage", organised by the Ministry of Women's Affairs on 23 and 24 November 2005, a protocol was signed and recommendations were adopted to eradicate child and forced marriages by representatives from various ministries, including the Attorney-General's Office. Yakin Ertürk observed that cabinet members and other officials appeared to be strongly committed to eradicating the existence of such marriages. (paras 23-25, 60, 77 pp.8, 15, 18)

    Yakin Ertürk recommends that criminal law clearly establishes that those involved in the organisation of child and forced marriages commit a crime, and must be prosecuted and punished. Yakin Ertürk recommends that the government clearly instruct the police and the judiciary that child marriages are null and void; and that the government launch media campaigns to inform the public that forced and child marriages violate fundamental precepts of Islam. (paras 80, 82, pp.20-21)

  • Self-immolation: The hospital in Herat registered approximately 100 cases a year in the last three years. The victims are mostly girls and young women from middle- and lower-class families. A fact-finding mission conducted by the Government in (p.8) March 2004, however, concluded that while they could not assess the exact extent of the suicides, "forced marriages, lack of education and unacceptable customs are the main reasons for the suicides". Self-immolations are also linked to honour crimes. (paras 29-30, p.9)
  • Malnutrition: The preference of giving food to male infants over female infants and to boys over girls results in a disproportionate number of females affected by malnutrition. (para 31, p.9)
  • Child pregnancy: Girls tend to become pregnant at an age at which their body is not fully developed and child spacing is unknown or ignored because of the societal pressure to generate sons. (para 31, p.9)
  • Violence against women and children: There are now several shelters in the country offering refuge to women and girls. Yakin Ertürk recommends that the government clearly instruct the police and prosecutor's offices that girls and women who escape situations of domestic violence must not be returned to their families unless their safety can really be ensured. (paras 74, 82, pp.18, 20)


Independent Expert on Afghanistan, M. Cherif Bassiouni


11 March 2005

  • Child abduction and trafficking: Child abduction, trafficking in children, abusive child labour and other violations of children's human rights are still prevalent. Government agencies have rescued and/or intercepted children in the process of being transported for various types of work. Efforts to understand the phenomenon have revealed that most trafficking victims travel with their families' consent and commonly live with relatives abroad. The government has prepared the National Plan of Action to Combat Child Trafficking which includes enacting legislation, maximising opportunities for education and other mechanisms to reduce children's social and economic vulnerability. M. Cherif Bassiouni recommends that the government should continue and expand its activities to prevent child trafficking, and reduce child labour. (paras 6, 8(i), 34, 35, 69 pp.5-6, 13-14, 21)
  • Demobilisation of child soldiers: M. Cherif Bassiouni welcomes progress in this area. (para 17, p.8)
  • Youth access to justice: The report points towards increased access to justice for youth, yet states that the current system for the administration of justice has a negative impact on children. (paras 12, 27, pp.7, 11)
  • Child detention: Children are commonly detained with their mothers, often in cells that hold more children than adults. No additional food, blankets, or other material is provided for these children. (para 30, p.12)
  • Child mortality: Afghanistan has one of the highest rates of under-five mortality (nearly one out of every five live births) and infant mortality (more than one out of 10 live births) in the world. (para 32, 34, p.13)
  • Limited mechanisms of child protection: The Independent Expert draws attention to the need to improve the legal, social, educational, political, health and cultural status of children in Afghanistan. (para 34, p.13)
  • Child citizenship: Many children lack legal documents - studies show that only six per cent of Afghan children possess the Tazkera certificate that guarantees citizenship. (para 34, p.13)
  • Education: M. Cherif Bassiouni reminds us that the long-term protection of human rights in Afghanistan requires significant advances in primary, secondary and university education. In recent years the country has seen the highest enrolment levels in Afghan history, with over half of the country's population between seven and 12-years-old attending school. However, school attendance varies widely by region, with significantly lower rates in rural areas and in the south. School enrolment drops off quickly after the second grade, especially for girls. M. Cherif Bassiouni recommends that continued efforts should be made to improve access to primary school education for all children and to address obstacles to universal attendance through public awareness programmes, the construction of new schools and increased teacher training. Special efforts should be made to improve literacy and basic education and skills of women and girls. (paras 36, 74-75 pp.14, 21)


Independent Expert on Afghanistan, M. Cherif Bassiouni


Country visit: 14-22 August 2004
Report published: 21 September 2004

  • Child abduction and trafficking of children has reportedly increased. Some families in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar and elsewhere have become reluctant to send their children to school because of fears they will be abducted. Evidence suggests that the kidnapped children are being trafficked for sexual purposes and forced labour. The government has begun to address the problem and a national action plan to combat child trafficking has been finalised by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and submitted to the Cabinet. M. Cherif Bassiouni is concerned about the reported lack of interest of the police in tackling these problems. M. Cherif Bassiouni recommends that the government take strong measures to curtail the practice of child abduction, child trafficking, and child labour. In particular, the government should address the plight of the estimated 500,000 parentless children who are used as exploited labour. (paras 4, 51(h), 57, 99-100 pp.4, 6, 18, 26)
  • Child marriages: M. Cherif Bassiouni was concerned over the continued legality of the transfer of young girls in marriage as payment of "blood money". Complaints and reports of forced marriage, including of girls, have not decreased. M. Cherif Bassiouni recommended that the government should enact a decree prohibiting the transfer of young girls in marriage as a way of settling family debts, or as payment of "blood money". (paras 9(g), 56, 98, pp.6, 18, 26)
  • Child detention: Children are commonly held in the same cells as violent adult criminals. In a women's detention centre in Kabul, no food is provided for the children. On 17 August 2004, President Karzai issued a decree stopping the prosecution of children whatever the stage of the case. M. Cherif Bassiouni has been unable to ascertain whether this decree has been carried out. (paras 60-61, 69, pp.19, 21)
  • Education: M. Cherif Bassiouni recommended that the government should establish a commission to review the curriculum in public schools and exercise strong control over private religious schools, including enhancing human rights education at all levels. (para 105, p.26).


UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Miloon Kothari


Country visit: 1-12 September 2003
Report published: 4 March 2004

  • Forced evictions in Shirpur village. A number of residents, primarily women and children were inside their houses when the destruction started, which, together with reported use of excessive force by the police, resulted in injuries. (para 64, pp.19-20)


Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Afghanistan,
Mr Kamal Hossain


Country visits: February - October 2002
Report published: 13 January 2003

  • Education: Three million children returned to school including more than one million girls who had been banned from education under the Taliban regime. Women explained how they had turned their homes into secret schools (paras 5, 36, pp.5, 14)
  • The role of youth in civil society: Mr Hossain suggested that the Human Rights Commission should solicit the active participation of young people as volunteers, saying this could help to extend the Commission's reach in local communities in disseminating human rights values. They should be encouraged to engage in this process and devote their energies to national reconstruction and to promote respect for human rights. (paras 13, 40(e) pp.8, 15)
  • Child mortality: The country's maternal and child mortality rates are among the worst in the world. (para 22, p.11)
  • Physical and sexual violence against girls and women: Frequent abuses of young women by local commanders were reported in the province of Badakshan. The low status of women and the consequent power imbalances between women and men are the underlying causes of physical and sexual violence against girls and women in Afghanistan. (paras 18(b), 34, pp. 10, 14)


UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Ms Asma Jahangir


Country visit: 13-23 October 2002
Report published: 3 February 2003

  • Child civilian deaths: According to reports, more than 20 civilians, including women and children, were deliberately killed in Borgh village of Chemtal district in January 2002. No investigation was carried out despite allegations of extrajudicial killings. In February 2002, a family of seven was murdered in District 9 of Mazar City. (para 42, p.18)


Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Mr Kamal Hossain


Report published: 6 March 2002

  • Education: Women and girls have been excluded from education. Schools for girls have been reopened. (paras 28, 45)
  • Malnutrition: Half of all Afghan children suffer from chronic malnutrition (para 29)
  • Child mortality: One out of every four children dies before reaching the age of five. (para 29)
  • Refugees: There are more than four million Afghan refugees of whom 80 per cent are women and children. (para 30, p.11)
  • Discrimination against women and girls: Special attention should be given to promoting and protecting the human rights of women and girls in Afghanistan, including the right to non-discrimination with regard to sex, age, religion, ethnicity, disability and political affiliation. Mr Hossain recommends carrying out a study and analysis of the impact on women and girls of the existing legal system, including with regard to family law, divorce and property and inheritance rights. Special measures needed to be taken to protect women and girls from forced marriages and all other forms of violence and sexual abuse. (paras 46-47(h), 51)


UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Mr Kamal Hossain


Report published: 9 March 2001

  • Internally displaced persons: The Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement recognise the unique situation of internally displaced women and girls, and call for measures to protect them. Even though the IDP population was largely composed of women and children, reports suggest more toilets had been constructed for men than for women. (paras 32-33(a))
  • Education: Seventy-nine per cent of refugee families with school-age children did not have any children at school. A UNICEF paper records that Afghanistan has some of the worst education indicators in the world. The Afghanistan Study Group (ASG) paper provides some hope for the future: there is a growing demand for education, including in rural areas where there is significant and increased support for girls to go to school. (para 34, 46-47).
  • Child mortality: Afghanistan has the world's lowest life expectancy rates and the highest rates of infant, child and maternal mortality. Afghanistan is one of the three most difficult countries in the world in which to survive. (paras 34, 40)
  • Malnutrition: A January 2001 report on a United Nations-sponsored health survey in northern Afghanistan has found alarming levels of malnutrition among children and aid officials warned that the situation could worsen dramatically in coming months. The report stated that high rates of chronic malnutrition were widespread in Afghanistan owing to extreme poverty. (para 55)
  • Concerns over sanctions: Care should be taken to ensure that implementation of the sanctions does not in any way impair or affect the economic and social rights of ordinary Afghan women, men and children. (para 63)


UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy


Country visit: 1-13 September 2009
Report published: 13 March 2000

  • Education: The Taliban Ministry of Education informed Ms Coomaraswamy that there are now primary schools for girls aged six to 10, run by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. They refused to commit to providing secondary and tertiary education for women. At present, there are no schools offering secondary or tertiary education for girls. The only non-primary education available is training for nurses. During her visit, Ms Coomaraswamy was taken to schools where girls studied up to university level. At the time of Ms Coomaraswamy's visit, five university lecturers from Mazar and Kabul were planning to open an Institute of Science; 35 boys and six girls had indicated their interest. The Swedish Committee for Afghanistan is involved in the provision of alternatives to formal education for girls. According to their estimates, 20 per cent of the 136,000 students currently receiving education are girls. When the Taliban closed formal schools in Herat, UNICEF decided not to support formal education until all children could be educated. UNICEF did not want to institutionalise a parallel system of more complete formal education for boys and limited home-based education for girls: it would provide equal education for boys and girls or none at all. Ms Coomaraswamy recommends the provision of primary, secondary and tertiary schooling for all Afghan children. All Afghan parties, and in particular the Taliban, should bring to an end without delay all violations of the human rights of women and girls and respect the right of women and girls to education without discrimination; the reopening of schools and the admission of women and girls to all levels of education. (paras 14, 18, 23-25, 61, 77, 81, 89, 92)
  • Education in refugee camps: According to statistics from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are two girls' schools (up to grade 5), two mixed schools, and 12 home-based schools for girls in the Saranan refugee village. Three years ago, home-based schools were started in the refugee villages, providing education for girls up to grade 5. Ms Coomaraswamy's assistant visited a home-based school where 16 girls were studying Pashto, Mathematics, drawing and the Koran for three hours, five days a week (at grade 3 level). Families who allowed their girl children to go to school received five kg of edible oil every two months as an incentive. (paras 55, 57)
  • Internally displaced persons: Seventy per cent of the internally displaced at the Russian Embassy compound were women and children. (para 17)
  • Malnutrition: The children in refugee camps appeared malnourished and had skin rashes associated with unhealthy living conditions. Doctors at the Mothers and Children Clinic in a refugee camp, informed Ms Coomaraswamy that many of the patients they treated suffered from malnutrition, and TB was rampant. Mothers in refugee camps explained that they had lost children along the way and the children who had survived looked severely malnourished and in need of special medical attention. (para 19, 52, 60)
  • Child abduction: Reports have been received of the abduction of Hazara girls from villages. Following their abduction, they are said to be forced into marriages with men from Pashtun tribes. (para 34)
  • Child abuse, prostitution and trafficking: A local newspaper in Peshawar reported that two Afghan girls were being sold by their parents to Arab men when they were arrested at the airport. Trafficking in women and girls is thought to be on the increase. Further, prostitution of Afghan refugee women and children is also growing, because of the lack of economic opportunities. Women's organisations stressed the need for a safe house. Violence against women and girls is of growing concern in the Saranan refugee village. (para 44-45, 54)


Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Kamal Hossain


Country visit: 8 to 13 September 1999
Report published: 30 September 1999

  • Summary execution of non-combatants: Executions of males over 13 from Sarasiab, Haiderabad and Syedabad villages. A group of 150 people, including women and children, was taken captive by the Taliban from Berson village and transferred to Parwan province. Summary executions of non-combatants including women and children were reported in Hazarajat. Mr Hossain recommends issuing instructions to local Taliban commanders to refrain from further violations of the rights of civilians, specifically to cease summary executions, targeting of non-combatants, violence against women and children, arbitrary detention and destruction or confiscation of property. (paras 8, 13, 15, 16(a))
  • Involuntary displacement: There is incontrovertible evidence of involuntary displacement of large numbers of civilians, especially women and children. Taliban officials orchestrated the movement of some 1,800 families, 'for their own security'. There are reports that dozens of trucks were seen, filled only with women and children separated from the male members of the family. (para 25)
  • Child mortality: One quarter of all children die before they reach the age of five. (para 44)
  • Education: Only primary education was available to girls aged five to 10 and was dispensed under the aegis of the Taliban Ministry of Religious Affairs. Schooling for both boys and girls has been affected considerably by the destruction of the educational infrastructure as a result of the protracted armed conflict. (paras 51-52)


Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Afghanistan
, Mr. Kamal Hossain


Country visit: 16 to 18 March 1999
Report published: 24 March 1999

  • Education: Hardly any girls and only 24 per cent of boys attended school. A more flexible attitude was expressed by Taliban representatives since the last visit with regard to the access of girls to education (paras 17, 21)
  • Infant mortality: The infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world. (para 17)
  • Discrimination against women and girls: A practical and workable policy should be adopted, the Secretary-General should ensure that all UN activities are carried out with regard to the principle of non-discrimination; and a gender perspective should be fully incorporated into the work of the civil affairs unit of the UN Special Mission to Afghanistan (UNSMA) (paras 31.(iv)(c)(d)).


Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Afghanistan
, Mr Choong-Hyun Paik


Country visit: 27 July to 3 August 1997
Report published: 12 March 1998

  • The gang-rape and genital mutilation of three children under 14, one girl and two boys, all of them ethnic Hazaras, was reported in Kabul. This is said not to be an isolated incident. (Kabul: para 7)
  • Traumatic stress: Ninety per cent of children believed that they would die during the conflict, according to a UNICEF report. All of the children interviewed had witnessed acts of violence, and the majority experienced nightmares, anxiety, concentration and appetite problems. Almost half cited fear as their strongest emotion. (Kabul: para 8)
  • Malnutrition: Most inhabitants of Kabul were described as cases of borderline malnourishment. The global malnutrition of children stood at 6.8 per cent while in Afghanistan 1.3 per cent of children suffered from severe malnutrition. (Kabul: para 9)
  • Education: Mullah Mohammad Omar stated that all families should send both their male and female children to school up to the age of 12. (Kandahar: para 1)

    Mr Paik was informed that there was absolutely no education for girls in Jalalabad. (Jalalabad: para 1)

  • Orphans: During his visit to Faizabad, Mr Paik visited an orphanage housing 40 children of both sexes who all went to school. Most of the children had lost their fathers and their mothers were said to be too poor to feed them. (Faizabad: para 2)
  • Child detention: The central prison in Jalalabad housed four children. No special court existed for juveniles. (Jalalabad: paras 1-2)


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