On March 2, 2016, the Security Council Working on Children and Armed Conflict adopted its third conclusion on Afghanistan (document forthcoming). The conclusion negotiation was timely for the February 13 to 17 visit of the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), Ms. Leila Zerrougui, to Afghanistan, where she met with key authorities and partners to assess the situation of children affected by armed conflict. The conclusion was also well-timed to inform the renewal of the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) mandate in mid-March 2016. The Working Group commended the Government of Afghanistan’s implementation of the “Action Plan regarding children associated with national security forces (ANSF) in Afghanistan” and its commitment to the SRSG-CAAC’s ‘Children, Not Soldiers’ campaign. However, expressing grave concern over the deteriorating situation, the Working Group made targeted recommendations urging the Government to continue taking necessary measures towards preventing and ending the recruitment and use of children by the ANSF, and strongly urged all armed groups to immediately cease all violations against children.

Ahead of the text negotiations that took place between January 27 and February 9, 2016, Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict (Watchlist) made targeted recommendations for inclusion in the conclusion document, many of which were echoed by the Working Group. Among others, Watchlist’s concerns centered on criminalization of recruitment and use of children by all parties to conflict, and measures to prevent the practice and hold perpetrators to account, treatment of children in detention for their alleged association with armed groups, and attacks on and military use of schools.

While the Government has committed to end the recruitment and use of children by the ANSF through its Action Plan, Watchlist and partners have observed with concern the ongoing recruitment by the Afghan National Police (ANP) and the Afghan Local Police (ALP). To prevent recruitment into the ANP and ALP, the Working Group urged the Government to establish Child Protection Units charged with screening recruits in all ANP and ALP recruitment centers in all provinces, while also expediting dissemination and implementation of the national age assessment guidelines. However, despite these recommended measures and its criminalization of recruitment and use by the ANSF, the Government should generally prohibit all underage recruitment and use by all parties, and a general prohibition was not explicitly called for in the conclusion. The Working Group did urge the Government to intensify efforts to address impunity for perpetrators of child rights violations by enhancing dissemination, implementation and enforcement of relevant laws and directives, and has specifically strongly encouraged adoption of the Child Act and other relevant legislation that include provisions criminalizing recruitment and use including by armed groups.

Watchlist and its partners have been concerned about the treatment of children in detention on security charges in Afghanistan as an ongoing issue, stressing that children who have been associated with non-state armed groups should be treated primarily as victims and in accordance with juvenile justice standards. In the conclusion, the Working Group expressed concern over the allegation of torture and ill-treatment of children in detention for alleged association with armed groups or on national security charges, and urged the Government to: ensure due process and respect for the rights of children detained in line with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child; consider alternatives to prosecution and detention that focus on rehabilitation and reintegration of children; and continue cooperation with the UN on the provision of unimpeded access to children in detention facilities. Watchlist particularly welcomed the Working Group’s call for access to detained children.

Watchlist was also pleased to see the Working Group’s attention to attacks against schools and hospitals and the military use of schools and medical facilities. The Working Group urged the Government to take appropriate measures to protect schools and enhance access to education by recalling the Government’s commitment through its endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration, the first ever reference to the Declaration in a Security Council negotiated document adopted by consensus.

Based on the Secretary-General’s (SG) country report formally presented to the Working Group on July 6, 2015, by the SRSG-CAAC, the negotiation of the conclusion was delayed until January 27, 2016 (read Watchlist’s assessment of the Working Group methods in the recently published annual briefing note). Once started, the negotiation took just under 3 weeks, thereby exemplifying the Council Members’ unified position on the urgency with which the situation of children affected by armed conflict in Afghanistan should be addressed. The context has changed significantly since the last conclusion was adopted in 2011, with devastating impact on children.

To ensure meaningful follow up on the 2016 conclusion on Afghanistan, the Working Group should ensure that all the letters addressed to parties to conflict are expediently sent out from the Secretariat, widely disseminate the conclusions in the field, and arrange for a follow up visit to Afghanistan at its earliest convenience. The pace of negotiations should be maintained as the Working Group takes on the next SG’s country-specific report on the situation of children and armed conflict in Iraq, formally presented on March 2, 2016.

For the most recent recommendations on Afghanistan, see Watchlist’s March 2016 Children and Armed Conflict Monthly Update.