Afghan child delegate talks peace at UN

13 November 2015

by Ahmad Sameer: Child Delegate at the UN General Assembly

Child delegates spoke at the 70th UN General Assembly in September. Here Sameer tell us his story:

My name is Ahmad Sameer and I am 15-years-old. I was selected as a child delegate from Afghanistan by Save the Children to participate in the UN General Assembly in New York. My role was to voice the concerns of children living in Afghanistan to parliamentarians, United Nation’s representatives and the media.

I'm from a province known as Wardak but because of security reasons I’m living in Kabul, Afghanistan.  I have a family of five. I have one brother and one sister. My father is a government employee and my mother works at home taking care of the family. I’m in my tenth grade and I attend a school called Khane e Noor. My dream is to become a scientist but I would also like to remain a youth activist as well. I love to read books and I collect coins.

Save the Children selected me as a child delegate because of my strong English skills and knowledge about children’s rights in Afghanistan.

As part of the rigorous selection process, I was interviewed and was also asked to give a seven-minute speech on Afghanistan and children’s rights. Soon after, my father received a phone call saying that I had been selected as the child delegate of Afghanistan.

It was a very happy and exciting moment because it’s an important step in my life. I knew that such a great opportunity came with great responsibility.  I really needed to convey my message in the right manner, so that it could have an impact on the lives of children in Afghanistan.

My role as the child delegate for my country was really important because children in Afghanistan are facing many problems.

According to Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education, only 10.5 million children are attending school and for a country with a population of over 30 million that is a very low number. According to various reports, only 28 percent of our population is literate.

It’s very hard to grow up in a war-torn country. It affects children psychologically; they don't feel safe because of suicide attacks and violence.  I too do not feel safe. My parents are constantly worried about me before I come home from school.

Once, there was a bomb attack near my house, it was very frightening.  During these types of attacks, innocent people are killed, mostly children and women. My own relatives have died in these sorts of attacks.

The thing that frustrates me the most is that Afghanistan’s government is neglecting the numerous issues that persist.

People in Afghanistan are facing great malnutrition, especially in the regions like Bamyan and in southern regions like Helmand. According to UNICEF about 33 per cent of Afghan children are underweight and 59 per cent are suffering from stunting.

Poverty is one of the main reasons causing malnutrition and it also prevents children from attending school.

I met a girl named Mariam during one of my field visits; she was a street working child. She told me she was 13-years-old but she looked like she was no older than seven.  She was disheveled and had torn clothes. She said she started working when she was just six-years-old. She would work the whole day just for a dollar with which she would buy bread for her family.

She told me, “I wish one day, I would go to school, study, play and spend some time with my family.” She said that when she sees other children going to school, she begins to feel sad about her own situation.

Child labor is an increasingly growing issue in Afghanistan; around 10 million of our population depends on their children working.

It was very tough responsibility for me to convey every single message and every single problem that children face in Afghanistan. 

We, the children, have been suffering over the past 30 years.  We want to have a life like European children, one that is safe. We want quality education and it is our basic right. Unfortunately, many of us don't get the rights that we deserve, children here are sick of war, we simply want a peaceful life.                                                                                      

I had two months of training for my role. As part of it, I visited different areas of Afghanistan. In these provinces, I visited different child-friendly centers. These centres are places supported by Save the Children that help children living in poverty and those who experience child labor, like Mariam. I asked every child that I met about his or her problems and I also asked some of them to help figure out some solutions.

I wanted to hear directly from children their solutions regarding their problems that they face growing up in Afghanistan. They gave some great ideas like eradicating poverty, ending corruption, building better and more schools and bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Then I travelled to New York for the UN General Assembly. I made a lot of new friends in New York. They also gave some really good suggestions on how to improve the current situation in my country.

One person I met, named Jerry, was a young delegate from China. He said that the best ways to improve a country would be to eradicate poverty by improving the educational system and ending corruption.

During my visit to New York, I attended various meetings and panel discussions focusing on children’s rights. On day six of my journey, I participated in a discussion with EU parliamentarians. I asked them how the EU could ensure accountability for the funds that are given to Afghanistan.

I asked this question because there’s a lot of corruption in Afghanistan. Much of the funds and aid given to Afghanistan are not reaching the most marginalized people.

The other question that was very important to me was the one I asked UK Prime Minister David Cameron during a panel discussion.

I asked him a question regarding the fact that in Afghanistan many parts of the country don’t have educational institutions, and that the education that we do have is of very low quality, often lacking severally in technology usage.

I asked, “How could it be ensured that we can have quality education in every single part of my country?”

He answered that this could be done by building more vocational centers and by really investing in the educational system.

I disagreed, partly.

I think that motivating students to take part in different competitions and really forcing the government to arrange more competitions would be good. Competitions within schools or between schools provide a better way of learning and could improve the quality of education all over Afghanistan.

I also believe that it’s vital to remove poverty. Poverty is a big barrier preventing many children from attending school because they are forced to work and leave their education behind.

Eradicating poverty would not only decrease the amount of child labor in Afghanistan but it would mean more qualified teachers would be hired. It would also help increase the number of female teachers. Many girls, in some areas of my country, are not allowed to go to school because of the lack of female teachers.

For a war-torn country, peace and justice means everything. If peace comes to our country, other issues would naturally unravel. We could have a prosperous Afghanistan but only if peace and justice is maintained.

We as a country are working to find solutions. Increasing child participation in decision-making could make a big difference in instilling peace and justice to Afghanistan. Everyone needs to contribute and children offer valuable insight.

For more information visit Save the Children’s profile on my journey.