How a UN fund gives hope to crisis-impacted children from Ecuador to Afghanistan

Special How a UN fund gives hope to crisis-impacted children from Ecuador to Afghanistan
A global ‘education emergency’ is especially evident in Afghanistan where millions of girls have been banned from secondary school following the country’s takeover by the Taliban, below. (AFP)
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Updated 03 September 2022

How a UN fund gives hope to crisis-impacted children from Ecuador to Afghanistan

How a UN fund gives hope to crisis-impacted children from Ecuador to Afghanistan
  • Some 222 million young people in regions affected by wars and disasters lack uninterrupted access to quality education 
  • A UN fund sees education as the best long-term solution to the problems facing Afghanistan and other fragile states

NEW YORK CITY/BOGOTA: Conflict, forced displacement, climate-induced disasters, and the compounding effect of the coronavirus pandemic have left hundreds of millions of children and adolescents — particularly girls — without access to quality education worldwide.

Today, 222 million young people living in regions affected by wars and disasters — in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America — are without access to uninterrupted or quality education.

According to analysis by Education Cannot Wait, the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, 78.2 million of these crisis-impacted children are out of school and 119.6 million are not achieving minimum-competency levels in reading and mathematics despite attending school.

The Taliban’s about-face on secondary education for girls suggests that the ultraconservative wing still retains in control over the regime’s ideological trajectory. (AFP)

Nowhere perhaps is the education emergency more obvious than in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, combined with drought, the regime’s global isolation, and the country’s near-bankruptcy, has deprived millions of children of the right to decent schooling.

Following the US-led coalition’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August last year, the resurgent Taliban insisted they had changed their ways and would allow women and girls to continue studying, thereby breaking with the strict policy of gender segregation the group had implemented while in power from 1996 to 2001.

However, on the morning of March 23 this year, when more than 1 million girls showed up at schools throughout Afghanistan, expecting to resume classes for the first time since the Taliban seized power, they were turned away from the gates.

Speaking at the launch of the fund’s 2021 annual report in New York City, ECW Director Yasmine Sherif told Arab News: “When we went to Kabul and spoke with the minister of education, there was a clear agreement that children and youth and young girls up to the age of 18 deserve to go to school. So, their starting point was, ‘yes, we need to develop a plan and a system.’

“It looked as if we were moving toward that. And then suddenly there was a decision in March to ban (secondary school girls from returning to the classroom), which took us all by surprise.”


222m Students in urgent need of educational support worldwide as of June 2022.

7m Children reached by Education Cannot Wait investments since 2017.

43% Proportion of children reached who are refugees or internally displaced.

11.8m Students reached through COVID-19 intervention programs.

32 Crisis-affected countries where students benefited in 2021.

Since its launch in 2017, the ECW has worked with governments, donors, UN agencies, civil society groups, the private sector, and communities to provide almost 7 million young people with quality education in some of the world’s most challenging humanitarian crises, with girls representing around half of its beneficiaries.

In 2021 alone, the agency reached 3.7 million children and adolescents, and an additional 11.8 million with its COVID-19 interventions. Its investments have been made possible through $1.1 billion in contributions to the ECW trust fund.

In August, the ECW published its annual results report for 2021 and its new strategic plan for 2023 to 2026 ahead of its high-level financing conference, due to take place in Geneva in February.

Yasmine Sherif said the Organization of Islamic Cooperation could play an important role in the humanitarian response in Afghanistan. (Supplied)

The fund views education as a life-saving and sustainable response to humanitarian crises, from the war in Yemen to the stabilization phase in Colombia. However, it is in countries such as Afghanistan, where years of progress in girls’ education are being actively rolled back, that action is needed most.

The Taliban’s about-face on secondary education for girls, which reportedly happened after a secret meeting of the group’s leadership in Kandahar, suggests that the ultraconservative wing still retains control over the regime’s ideological trajectory.

Primary school-aged girls in Afghanistan are permitted to receive schooling up until the sixth grade. Women are also allowed to attend university, albeit under rigorous gender segregation rules and only if they abide by a strictly enforced dress code.

The Taliban leadership has sought to justify its ban on secondary education for Afghan girls on the grounds of religious principle — a view that many Islamic scholars and civil society groups dispute.

In 2021 alone, Education Cannot Wait reached 3.7 million children and adolescents, and an additional 11.8 million with its COVID-19 interventions. (AFP)

Sherif said: “From what I have seen, speaking to them informally, there are those who want to resume education for secondary girls and there are those who do not.

“You have those who are educated, who are aware, who feel that sense of humanity that sort of binds every religion, doesn’t matter what religion. Humanity comes with any religion, whether it’s Islam or any other world religion. They understand from their heart that, ‘of course my daughter should go to school.’

“And then there are those who may not even understand their own religion.”

On the situation in the context of Afghanistan, Sherif added: “It depends on who interprets. It’s an interpretation issue. Sometimes it has to do with lack of education. It has to do with a lack of tolerance. It may have to do with many different reasons. There’s an internal struggle there. That’s not politics, that’s human behavior. That’s an internal struggle.

SPOTLIGHT: Taliban’s broken promises leave Afghanistan’s schoolgirls and women in despair

“So that’s what we got there, and we know that there are some really principled and strong people there who really want to see girls return to secondary school, who almost cry when you speak with them, and then there are those who are less emotive about it and may not feel that same desire.”

Although many Afghans were dismayed when the Taliban blocked secondary school-age girls returning to the classroom, those familiar with the puritanical rules and erratic policies of the group during its previous rule were not at all surprised.

Creeping ultraconservatism is evident in new rules that ban women without a hijab or male chaperone from traveling long distances, and the dismissal of women from jobs and positions of influence.

78.2 million crisis-impacted children are out of school, according to Education Cannot Wait. (AFP)

Sherif said the Organization of Islamic Cooperation could play an important role in the humanitarian response in Afghanistan that may offer an antidote to the Taliban’s uncompromising views on girls’ education.

“The OIC’s role is to work across the Islamic world and find commonalities and common interests. And it can play an instrumental role, especially when the de-facto authorities define themselves on a religious basis, Islamic emirate, the organization then naturally would be a useful partner,” she said.

The OIC is the second-largest intergovernmental organization after the UN, with 57 member states across four continents offering a collective voice for the Muslim world.

The Taliban leadership has sought to justify its ban on secondary education for Afghan girls on the grounds of religious principle. (AFP)

“There is no Muslim country today in the world where secondary girls do not go to school except Afghanistan. Secondary girls go to school in every Muslim country. They are holding leadership positions; they are going to universities. Women in the Muslim world play instrumental intellectual, scientific roles.

“And there are over 1 billion Muslims around the globe. It’s important that their voice is heard and that their perspectives are shared with the de-facto authorities in Afghanistan. It should be fair to listen to the OIC. They have a lot to share,” Sherif added.

In its effort to isolate the Taliban and force them to change their ways, the international community has prevented the regime from accessing billions of dollars in desperately needed aid, loans, and frozen assets held by the US, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.


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Sherif said: “It is very important that we do not abandon Afghanistan, which is on an absolutely terrifying brink of humanitarian catastrophe.

“Actually, they are in a catastrophe already. When you are so poor that you have to sell your child to feed your family. When drug addiction has increased. When they don’t even have money to go to the hospital. They have to die or let their children die or sell their children.”

She noted that instead of abandoning the people of Afghanistan, multilateral and bilateral donors ought to target foreign aid in such a way that it bypasses the Taliban regime and delivers assistance at the point of need.

“The humanitarian imperative is not to be politically aligned or have anything to do with national budgets or provide resources to the government. It’s about delivering humanitarian assistance and that is the position of the UN civil society.

In March, more than 1 million girls in Afghanistan were turned away from school gates across the country. (AFP)

“The UN is there and delivering. It goes directly to the vulnerable population,” Sherif said. 

In an impassioned plea to international donors, she added: “We need to hold the flag for Afghanistan’s people, the mothers, the fathers, the children, and the girls, and the right to basics, and they are now on the brink of starvation. Don’t turn your back on Afghanistan.”


Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success
Updated 24 min 40 sec ago

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success

Why Bangladesh is seeking Saudi oil on credit after IMF success
  • Bangladeshi government asks Kingdom to supply oil on deferred payment basis
  • Request follows IMF approval of $4.7bn stabilization package for South Asian nation

DHAKA: After securing a stabilization package from the International Monetary Fund this week, Bangladesh has asked Saudi Arabia for extended credit on oil supplies, in a move that experts say would further help its economy get back on track.

Bangladesh Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen met Riyadh’s Ambassador to Dhaka, Essa Al-Duhailan, earlier this week. The foreign ministry said after the meeting that Momen had asked the Kingdom to consider supplying crude and refined oil “on a deferred payment basis” to help Bangladesh meet its energy needs.

The request came shortly after the IMF approved a $4.7 billion loan for Bangladesh.


Request follows IMF approval of $4.7bn stabilization package for South Asian nation.

“Bangladesh is now passing through a period of constrained foreign exchange reserves and is having difficulty in terms of opening LCs (letters of credit) and also in terms of paying for our imports,” Prof. Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue in Dhaka, told Arab News on Friday.

“If we can get Saudi oil on a deferred payment basis, it will ease up Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves and help Bangladesh in terms of purchasing other necessary imports which require instantaneous payment.”

The IMF’s Extended Credit Facility and Extended Fund Facility package approved for Bangladesh on Jan. 30 are likely to boost the country’s outlook among its creditors, including Saudi Arabia, and demonstrate its capacity to pay back.

Unlike other regional countries, such as crisis-hit Sri Lanka and Pakistan, Bangladesh did not ask the fund for a bailout loan. The approved arrangements are a stabilization package to fund structural reform, ensure balance-of-payment stability, and a stable and sustainable economic position.

“The IMF granting of $4.7 billion will be helpful in providing positive signals to our development partners that the fundamentals of the Bangladeshi economy remain strong, and that Bangladesh is also ready to take up reforms,” Rahman said.

“From that perspective, it will also be helpful in projecting to Saudi Arabia that while we are asking for deferred payment, the Bangladeshi economy will be able to sustain good foreign reserves and when the negotiated time comes, we will be able to pay.”

Besides taking the pressure off its dollar reserves, the extended credit on oil supplies would also help Bangladesh with energy security. The South Asian nation, which is dependent on imported liquefied natural gas, has been struggling with an energy crisis in recent months.

Since mid-July, the government has been resorting to daily power cuts amid high global prices driven up by Russia’s war in Ukraine. Industries that do not receive sufficient power to run their operations have been forced to remain idle for several hours a day. In early October, about 80 percent of Bangladesh’s 168 million people were left without electricity after a grid failure caused by fuel shortages to over a third of the country’s gas-powered units.

Saudi Arabia supplies more than half of Bangladesh’s crude imports.

“We are bringing in oil, which is our regular, normal import, because our transport sector is fully dependent on this oil, and also partially our production,” said Prof. Mohammad Tamim, dean of chemical and material engineering at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.

Importing energy and ensuring its uninterrupted supply are crucial to keeping the Bangladeshi economy afloat and helping it stabilize while other reforms requested by the IMF are implemented to fix structural problems.

“There is a lot of pressure in terms of importing energy products, so it’s very important that we keep supplying oil so that there is no disruption in economic activity,” Tamim said.

“Deferred payment will definitely help Bangladesh in tackling the dollar crunch now.”

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown
Updated 03 February 2023

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown

Indian state arrests 1,800 people in child marriage crackdown
  • 31.8 percent of women in Assam were married before the legal age
  • Police expect to arrest about 8,000 during week-long drive

NEW DELHI: Police in India’s northeaster state of Assam arrested hundreds of people on Friday in a crackdown on those marrying or arranging marriages with children.
The minimum legal age for Indians to marry is 18 for women and 21 for men, but the practice of child marriage remains widespread in parts of the country, especially Assam. According to India’s latest National Family Health Survey, 31.8 percent of women in the state were married before the legal age, compared with the national average of 23.3 percent.
In some districts of Assam, more than half of married women were married before 18.
The crackdown on child marriage was approved by the Assam government late last month to tackle the practice and increasing numbers of child pregnancies.
“We have arrested 1,793 people till 8 a.m. this morning,” Prasanta Kumar Bhuiyan, Assam’s inspector general of police, told Arab News.
“The crackdown will continue for one week and people are being detained under the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.”
He estimated that another 6,000 suspects would be arrested in the coming days.
The state’s chief minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said on Friday that he had requested the police to act with “zero tolerance against the unpardonable and heinous crime on women.”
Activists said welcomed the operation.
“The basis for this drive is the increasing infant mortality rate and mother mortality rate among young children,” said Miguel Das, who runs the Assam-based Utsah Child Rights Organization.
Das said however that law enforcement should not be the only response.
“There should be socio-economic welfare measures to address the deep-seated problem prevalent among all the demographics in the state,” he said, adding that the drive should also include the rehabilitation of married children and initiatives to prevent the practice.
The UN estimates that India is home to around 223 million child brides — the largest number of any country in the world.
“Early marriage causes lots of imbalance in the society and leads to high population growth and illiteracy among the young generation,” said Azizur Rahman, former president of All Assam Minority Students’ Union.
“I support the government’s crackdown and hope the large-scale arrests will send a message to the people.”

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland
Updated 03 February 2023

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland

Liberian warlord’s trial set to conclude in Switzerland
  • Lawyers for the plaintiffs said Kosiah's actions were "widespread and systematic" against a civilian population
  • A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected within months

GENEVA: The appeal hearings of a former Liberian rebel commander convicted of war crimes were set to conclude on Friday in a trial that was broadened in its final stages to include crimes against humanity for the first time in Switzerland.
Alieu Kosiah, who fought in the 1990s against then-President Charles Taylor’s army, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in June 2021 for rape, murder and cannibalism in one of the first trials for war crimes committed in the West African country.
During the three weeks of appeal hearings at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, the defendant sought to overturn the lower court’s ruling, arguing at length that he was not present when the crimes were committed. Kosiah’s lawyer denied the charges and said he was a minor when first recruited.
But lawyers for the plaintiffs said Kosiah’s actions were “widespread and systematic” against a civilian population.
“We feel strongly that these crimes are the epitome of crimes against humanity,” said Alain Werner, a Swiss lawyer and director of Civitas Maxima, an NGO that represents war crimes victims and is acting on behalf of some of the plaintiffs.
A verdict by the three-judge panel is expected within months. If Kosiah is found guilty of crimes against humanity, this could extend his sentence to life.
The hearings were often laden with emotion, with some Liberian witnesses and victims confronting Kosiah for the first time since the country’s civil wars. They all asked for anonymity because of the risk of reprisals back home where former warlords still hold prominent roles.
In one poignant moment, a former child soldier under Kosiah acknowledged him with a military salute in the court room and then broke down and was too upset to testify.
In another, a witness who had been held as a sex slave by a soldier described how Kosiah had stabbed one of the Liberian plaintiffs present in the back. “Many people in the courtroom were crying. It was very emotional, even 30 years later,” said Zena Wakim, one of the prosecution lawyers.
No trials have taken place in Liberia for its back-to-back civil wars between 1989 and 2003 that became infamous for their brutality and degradation, with marauding child soldiers and combatants high on drugs.
In an indication of the importance of the trial to the Liberian plaintiffs, one of them who says she was raped by Kosiah, named a recently born baby “Justice.”
“I want him in jail,” she told Reuters on the opening day of the appeal trial on Jan. 11.

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
Updated 03 February 2023

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder

Philippines tightens rules for Kuwait recruitment after maid murder
  • In 2018 and 2020, Manila banned worker deployment to the Gulf state after murder cases
  • Philippine president says government will review bilateral labor agreement with Kuwait

MANILA: The Philippines is tightening rules for the deployment of workers to Kuwait after the brutal murder of a migrant Filipino worker last month sent shockwaves across the Southeast Asian nation.
The charred body of the 35-year-old maid, Jullebee Ranara, was found abandoned in a desert in late January and repatriated to the Philippines last week. Kuwaiti police have since arrested and charged the 17-year-old son of her employer over the killing.
Ranara was one of more than 268,000 overseas Filipino workers living in Kuwait. Most are women employed as domestic helpers.
After Ranara’s murder, the Philippine Migrant Workers Office in Kuwait suspended the accreditation of new recruitment agencies in the Gulf country, while President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. announced on Monday that the Philippine government is scheduling meetings with Kuwaiti authorities to review the bilateral labor agreement to “see if there are any weaknesses in the agreement that allowed this (murder) to happen” and provide more protection to overseas Filipino workers.
“The Philippine government’s priority is to seek justice for our deceased compatriot,” Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Eduardo Jose De Vega told Arab News on Thursday.
“The Department of Migrant Workers is reviewing the records of the currently accredited agencies and is imposing stricter rules for deployment in the meantime.”
Ranara’s murder is not the first such incident in Kuwait to shock the Philippines, which in 2018 imposed a worker deployment ban to the Gulf country after the killing of Filipino domestic helper Joanna Daniela Demafelis, whose body was found in a freezer in an abandoned apartment.
The ban was partially lifted the same year, after the two countries signed a protection agreement for workers. In May 2019, Filipino maid Constancia Lago Dayag was killed in Kuwait, and a few months later, another employee, Jeanelyn Villavende, was tortured to death by her employer. The Philippines again imposed a worker deployment ban in January 2020, which was lifted when Kuwaiti authorities charged Villavende’s employer with murder and sentenced her to death.
The Philippine government is not considering another ban, despite calls from Filipinos outraged by the recent gruesome killing.
According to migrant work expert Emmanuel Geslani, a ban “may result in more harm than good” by leading to human trafficking.
“Any deployment ban always leads workers to illegal recruitment syndicates enticing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) eager to find work in the oil-rich country of Kuwait,” he told Arab News.
“OFWs who are victims of human trafficking will be devoid of the protection of the Migrant Workers Office and the labor agreement forged by both countries.”

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US
Updated 03 February 2023

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US

Job: ‘Sniper’: Accused Daesh fighter on trial in US
  • Ruslan Maratovich Asainov kept a makeshift version of the militants' black flag right above the desk in his cell
  • The trial is a reminder of the enduring and far-reaching fallout of a war that drew tens of thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq

NEW YORK: He had been brought from the battlefields of Syria to a New York lockup, a US citizen charged with serving as a sniper and weapons trainer for the Daesh group.
And even in jail, Ruslan Maratovich Asainov kept a makeshift version of the militants’ black flag right above the desk in his cell, according to trial testimony this week.
“What’s the big deal? It’s mine. It’s religious,” then-jail lieutenant Judith Woods recalled him saying when she went to confiscate the hand-drawn image in 2020.
Years after the fall of the extremist group’s self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate, the trial is a reminder of the enduring and far-reaching fallout of a war that drew tens of thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq. Their home countries are still contending with what should become of them.
Jurors, who are expected to start deliberating as soon as Monday, have gotten a refresher course Daesh’s gruesome rule and its sophisticated, social-media-savvy recruitment of distant supporters to come and take up arms. Prosecutors say Asainov did so and rose through the group’s ranks, eventually becoming an “emir” who taught other members to use weapons.
In post-arrest videos shown at his trial, he gives his occupation as “a sniper” to FBI agents and readily tells them that he provided instruction in everything from rifle maintenance to ballistics to adjusting for weather effects — and, of course, “how to actually pull the trigger.”
“Oh, it’s a long lesson,” he explains, sitting on a bed in a room where he was being held. “I would give, like, a three-hour lesson, just on that, just to pull the trigger.”
Jurors have seen photos alleged to be of Asainov in camouflage, aiming a rifle, and the handmade flag that Woods said she took from his cell. Witnesses have included his flabbergasted ex-wife, who testified that he morphed from a Brooklyn family man into a zealot. She said he weighed in from Syria to complain about their daughter donning a Halloween costume and sent a photo of the bodies of what he said were comrades killed in a battle, according to the Daily News of New York.
Asainov chose not to testify. One of his lawyers, Susan Kellman, has said he went to Syria because he wanted to live under Islamic law. He has pleaded not guilty — a plea that Kellman entered on his behalf because, she said, he didn’t abide by the American legal system.
Nonetheless, the 46-year-old Asainov listened politely to government witnesses on a day this week, alternately stroking his beard and folding his arms across his chest.
Daesh fighters seized portions of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and declared the establishment of a so-called Islamic caliphate there, at a time when Syria was already convulsed by civil war. Fighting laid waste to multiple cities before Iraq’s prime minister declared the caliphate vanquished in 2017; the extremists lost the last of their territory two years later, though sporadic attacks persist even now.
During the height of the fighting, as many as 40,000 people from 120 countries showed up to join in, according to the United Nations. There is no comprehensive US statistic on Americans among those foreign fighters; a 2018 report by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism found at least 64 who had joined jihadist fighting in Iraq and Syria since 2011.
Since Daesh’s defeat, some foreign members and their families have lingered in detention facilities in Syria because their countries refused to take them back. Other accused foreign fighters have returned to their countries, including some who were prosecuted.
Recent US cases include a Kansas mother who led an all-female Daesh battalion, a Minnesota man who served in a battalion that prepared foreign fighters for suicide attacks in Europe, and a Detroit-area convicted this week of training with and then spending more than two years with the group.
Born in Kazakhstan, Asainov is a naturalized US citizen. He lived in Brooklyn starting in 1998, married and had a child.
Then he flew to Istanbul on a one-way ticket in December 2013 and made his way to Syria to join what he later described in a message as “the worst terrorist organization in the world that has ever existed,” authorities say.
“You heard of Daesh,” he said in another text message in January 2015, according to prosecutors’ court filings. “We will get you.”
By that April, Asainov told an acquaintance — in fact, a government informant — that he’d been fighting in Syria for about a year, according to court papers. They say that in various exchanges, he urged the informant to come to Syria and help with Daesh’s media operations, asked for $2,800 to buy a rifle scope, and sent photos of himself with fatigues and rifle, saying he “didn’t mean to show off” but was showing what was “just normal” in his new life.
Authorities announced in July 2019 that US-backed forces in Syria had captured Asainov and turned him over to the FBI.
He faces charges that include providing material support to a US-designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.