Aug 19, 2009
For the last two years, UNICEF youth centres have empowered young people to participate in the decision-making process of their community. In a country where young girls are married off early, life skills help them deal with an uncertain future.
Jalalabad: In Afghanistan, more than half of the population is below the age of 18. Youth literacy rates are low. For young women and girls, the situation is of particular concern.
Numerous girls are forced to marry as young as 14-years-old, and many are confronted with early pregnancy, sexual abuse and domestic violence. As opportunities for vocational training and employment are limited, many young people get disillusioned and take up dangerous jobs or drugs.
Afghan youngsters grow up in an especially complex environment, confronted every day with conflicting values. Violence and death have become an integral part of the Afghan society – but there is still hope for possibilities of a better future.
To empower young people to make informed decisions and actively participate in the decision-making process of their community, UNICEF, in collaboration with the Afghan Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs established Youth Information and Contact Centers (YICC) in six provinces in 2007. Working with young people between the ages of 12 and 25, the goal was to enable them to develop skills to solve problems.
“I am a poet. For a long time I have suffered from violence and injustice in our society but I couldn’t express myself, until one day I took pen to paper. The YICC finally gave me an opportunity to learn English and taught me how to use a computer. It will help me to become someone one day,” said 16-year-old Nilab Tanhar.
The YICC were inspired by the Afghan nongovernmental organisation, Social Volunteer Foundation, which is part of the Child Protection Action Networks (CPAN), set-up by UNICEF and the Government of Afghanistan to protect children in the war-torn communities of Afghanistan. Today, 27 CPAN exist all across Afghanistan, connecting governmental and non-governmental organisations, to protect and promote children’s rights in the country.
When the center opened its doors in 2007, girls were forbidden by their families from attending group discussion sessions.
To increase parental confidence in the centres’ reliability, UNICEF and its partners recruited female animators and provided car transportation from the girls’ homes to the YICC, circumventing the problem that women usually face when travelling alone.
Fostering open communication
Today, several hundred girls attend trainings and discussions, but all the challenges have not been overcome.
“My whole family is literate, but my parents engaged me to an illiterate man,” said Nilab. "Every time I want to come here I have to beg like a child for him to accompany me. I am not interested in marriage, but want to publish my book of poems. I need to be in contact with other people but they won’t let me leave the house. Only because my aunt is accompanying me can I be here today.”
Every Tuesday, Nilab and a dozen other girls meet in Jalalabad’s YICC to discuss the problems they are facing and issues concerning them.
“The girls have woken up. Discussions like the ones that we now have every week about marriage, relationships, and professional perspectives would not have been possible two years ago,” said the Director of the YICC Daoud Noor Agha Zoag.
“We do not say we have responded to all their problems but little by little the situation is improving. This progress was possible because we are a strong team: The Ministry of Youth for the Government, UNICEF for the United Nations and the Youth Federation for the Civil Society. Together we will go ahead!”