Investing in Childhood: Building a Better Future for Mothers and Children in Afghanistan

See below for a guest post from Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children and MFAN Co-Chair.

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A few weeks ago, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post on how crucial it is to keep Afghanistan on the right track, so that the country can build upon the many gains and accomplishments already made. This will require continued investment, monitoring and accountability to ensure that short-term progress can evolve into long-term change for all Afghans, especially children and their families.

Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976. We have seen families struggle through decades of conflict and we know that an investment in children is the best way to build a better future for all Afghans. We have responded to droughts, floods and refugee crises in Afghanistan to help families when crisis strikes and we work every day to give children a healthy start, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm—things that every child deserves, no matter where they’re born.

In the past several years, it has become clear that our investment—and the investment of donor governments, global partners and Afghan leaders—is paying off in the lives of families. The increased availability of basic health services and training of community health workers who bring care to families in remote areas means better health outcomes, especially for vulnerable women and children.

In Save the Children’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report, for example, war-torn Afghanistan ranked as the toughest place on earth to be a mother in 2010 and 2011. This ranking is based on 5 key indicators: maternal mortality, child health, women’s educational opportunity, women’s economic status and women’s political representation—a lens through which to look at the experience of motherhood in countries around the world. Afghanistan’s place at the bottom of the list just a few short years ago speaks to the incredibly difficult circumstances in which Afghan mothers found themselves.

But in our latest report, released in May of this year, Afghanistan moved up an unprecedented 32 places in the ranking. This is thanks to the country’s investment in midwives, so mothers and newborns are safe at the dangerous time of birth; its dedication to providing lifesaving immunizations and other health interventions for newborns and young children; and its changing policies on education, so more girls can attend school.

Afghanistan has reduced maternal deaths by two thirds in 15 years, an almost unheard of accomplishment especially in a country experiencing ongoing conflict. In 2001, one of every four children born in Afghanistan died by the age of five; in 2014 that number is one in ten. These numbers are worth celebrating—it’s important to recognize the investment of so many partners who saw a reason to hope when the situation was bleak, and a reason to invest in children and mothers who deserved so much more.

Progress in education has been slower, especially for girls. Since 2002 the number of girls attending school increased by over 30%, although an estimated 1.5 million school-age girls are still not enrolled in classes.  Today, only 40% of Afghan girls attend elementary school and only one in 20 girls attend school beyond the sixth grade.  This is a huge area for improvement—and further investment can help Afghan girls access the best possible tool to build a better world for themselves and their families: education.

As Afghanistan and the world awaits the results of last weekend’s presidential run-off election, it’s more important than ever to look to the future.  Afghanistan is a potential success story of the power of foreign assistance—but it still has a long way to go. With smart aid, partner collaboration and remembering that an investment in a child is always a good investment, we can help Afghan children and families write the next chapter of the country’s remarkable progress.

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