You probably know Afghanistan for all the wrong reasons.
For 5 consecutive years, the UN has called my home country “the deadliest country on the planet for children.” As a child, I can tell you, that’s scary.
And yet, within this challenging environment, do you know the number one wish for children and young people in Afghanistan?
Education. Access to quality education for every child.
But in Afghanistan, 3.7 million children are out of school. That is a devastating figure and it makes me sad to think of all the girls and boys who are denied the opportunity to study and learn new skills – and denied the chance to live a full and productive life.
Education is, of course, critical for all children. But it is, I believe, it is especially important for girls and so it is heartbreaking to know that in Afghanistan around 60% of girls are out of school. I think there are five main reasons why this is the case and, on the face of it, they might seem like big challenges but they are not insurmountable.
First. For too many children, especially girls, the journey to school is dangerous. So, I’m calling for more investment in Community Based Education so that girls can learn in their neighborhoods.
Second. So many of our schools still lack water and toilets, and separate toilets for boys and girls, in 2020! Are we asking too much to have water and toilets in schools? I’m calling for more investment in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities so that more girls will stay in school, and more children will stay healthy.
Third. In Afghanistan, we live in a conservative society, so we have to be practical. Having more female teachers will help parents feel comfortable and confident that their daughters are safe, and more girls would go to school and stay in school. So, I’m calling for more investment in training female high school graduates to become teachers.
Fourth. For World Children’s Day, our U-Report poll showed that nearly 70% of students don’t feel safe in school – not surprising after November’s terrible attack at Kabul University. So, I’m calling for more to be done to make our places of learning safe and secure.
And fifth. Too many parents in my country think that education is not right for a girl. They think that a girl will be married, and they will never get any benefit from her education. So many girls I know, under 18, are being married which isn't what they want. I’m calling for campaigns to help transform this way of thinking and prevent child marriage.
Educated girls can help to build a stronger Afghanistan. But, right now, girls in my country are not only out of school, they’re also treated like an after-thought. It makes me so sad. And now I understand how it feels when you're not wanted, not welcomed and not heard, and when the rights that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) promises are denied.
Despite all these challenges, I’m proud to tell you that the children and young people of Afghanistan are warriors and champions! We're living in a society where we face bomb blasts, kidnappings, and daily terror; where we don’t have good libraries or internet; and where we’re denied the support we need to thrive.
But we never give up. We never get tired of hoping for a better future. And I hope that global leaders and decision makers will do everything in their power to make that better future a reality, for every Afghan child. With their help, my friends and peers can help children blossom from this brutal landscape and grow into strong, resilient, and productive citizens -- citizens who can sow seeds of peace in our blessed country.