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The Challenges Facing Afghanistan's Children

The people of Afghanistan have endured more than their share of conflict: the Soviet war in the 1980s, Taliban control in the 1990s and the NATO invasion that continues today. Despite lingering dangers and difficult conditions, some Afghans are returning to their native land after fleeing to Pakistan and other countries. ChildFund, which has worked in Afghanistan since 2001, is working to make life easier for returnees, especially children.

Protecting the Vulnerable

One of the greatest challenges facing children in Afghanistan is a lack of access to basic services, including education and health care. The country's infrastructure has been heavily damaged by the wars, and families living in rural areas often experience great difficulty when seeking even simple medical attention or clean water. In addition, women and young girls are often marginalized in Afghanistan, without access to education. Some are victims of domestic violence and early marriages.

In some cases, girls as young as 12 are promised in marriage, often in exchange for financial remuneration. This was the case for Nazifa, a 12-year-old girl from the Takhar province whose family thought she would be married to a boy her own age, in return for $2,000. Instead, Nazifa was unhappily wed to a 72-year-old man for a few months when ChildFund learned of her plight through the Social Work Coaching program, an initiative funded by UNICEF that aims to improve child protection across Afghanistan. After several months, she has been able to leave the marriage and continue attending school.

Struggling to Rebuild

Although NATO's presence in Afghanistan is coming to its conclusion, the effects of the war will be felt for many years. During a recent visit to the country, ChildFund CEO Anne Lynam Goddard noted that although much progress has been made to improve access to health care and education services in Afghanistan, there is still an urgent need for aid in many parts of the country.

"Everyone is unsure what will happen after the U.S. troops pull out next year, but that's not stopping people from getting on with their lives. … Afghanistan has been declared by UNICEF as 'the worst place to be born' due to the extreme forms of deprivation and exclusion experienced by Afghan infants and young children," Goddard wrote in a recent blog post. "My experience last week brought that point home."

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