With the deck stacked against Afghan girls from early childhood in the only
country in the world where men live longer than women, the United Nations, the
Government and other partners must take concerted action to improve education
and health care for women, a senior UN Children's Fund (UNICEF
) official said today.
Outlining the "journey of a typical Afghan girl," UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Cecilia Lotse recited a litany of woes: beyond the general statistics of one child in seven dying before the end of the first year and one of every five survivors not living beyond five, girls face additional deficits in education and health.
"If our young Afghan girl celebrates her fifth birthday, she may be lucky enough to go school - or she could join the two out of every three girls who remain at home, denied the chance of intellectual stimulation and development that is so critical to her future progress," Ms. Lotse told a news briefing in Kabul, the Afghan capital, noting that the female illiteracy rates is as high as 85 per cent.
"Even if she enjoys a primary level education, there is a high chance that our young girl will drop out of school within a few years," she added, wrapping up a week-long visit. Girls' enrolment in secondary school is under 10 per cent and without a solid education, the chances of the girl becoming married early increase.
UNICEF estimates that some 40 per cent of all women today in Afghanistan were married before the age of 18, and a third of them became mothers before the age of 18. The younger the bride, the younger the mother, the higher the risks are of complications in pregnancy, the less opportunity for her social development.
"And finally, if our young girl makes it to this stage of her life in reasonable health, maybe with some education - the statistics tell us that her life expectancy will still be less than that of men. Afghanistan, I believe, is the only country in the world where men live longer than women," Ms. Lotse said.
"But my visit was not all doom and gloom. Indeed I end my trip here with some degree of hope," she added, noting progress, including an obstetric care centre in Kandahar caring for mothers with pregnancy complications and a community-based school that seeks to overcome problems faced by girls living too far from the nearest formal classroom.
"I also got the sense that the Government has a strategic vision for the future, that it knows in which direction we need to move, in order to tackle the problems facing the people," she said.
"It is essential that all of us - the Government, the UN, and others - prioritize investments in education, that we increase the quality and accessibility of health care for women. We have to build a new generation of female health workers, we have to encourage women to become teachers," she added.