The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) has declared a state of ‘acute emergency’ for women and children in Afghanistan due to unacceptably high maternal and child mortality rates. UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia Cecilia Lotse said that among children, girls in particular are “very vulnerable,” with one in five children dieing before the age of five from illness and malnutrition.
UNICEF reports that 1,600 out of every 100,000 women die giving birth or as a result of related complications, as compared to 7 deaths per 100,000 in industrialized countries. In some parts of Afghanistan, maternal mortality rates are as high as 6,000 per 100,000, Lotse reported. “Afghan women don’t live long lives,” said Lotse. “Afghanistan may be the one country in the world where women die before men.”
In addition to its high child and maternal mortality rates, illiteracy among women and girls in Afghanistan is as high as 85 percent, according to UNICEF. Courageous Afghan women continue to build and sustain girls’ schools despite violent attacks. Girls’ enrollment in secondary schools is still under 10 percent. Girls were prohibited from attending school under the Taliban and were permitted to return to school when the Taliban were ousted in 2001. Since then, over 40 girls’ schools have been bombed, set on fire, or violently attacked. Expansion of peacekeeping and security forces in Afghanistan is urgently needed to ensure girls’ continued return to school.