By Emma Graham-Harrison
Afghanistan is making progress weeding out children from its police forces but is only starting to tackle persistent allegations of sexual abuse and may still have minors serving informally, UN officials said Tuesday.
Peter Wittig, Germany's ambassador to the United Nations and head of a mission to Afghanistan looking at protection of children in war, also said that UN sanctions might be considered as a measure of last resort against insurgent commanders who attack schools.
Wittig said that the Afghan government had shown a clear commitment to ensuring no adolescent police officers were serving.
They now screen units for children, have ordered tighter checks on recruitment and investigate reported cases.
In January, Kabul signed an action plan to "halt the recruitment and use of children in the Afghan National Security Forces and to prevent other child rights violations including sexual violence and killing and maiming."
Ralf Schroeer, a German diplomat who was part of the delegation, said interior ministry checks unearthed only three underage policemen, who were being taken off the force.
But another official from UN headquarters warned that remote areas and less regulated groups like the Afghan Local Police, a type of self-defence militia set up with Western support and funding, still have serious problems.
"The informal sector is much more dire," said the official, who asked not to be named, adding that work to tackle sexual abuse of children within the police had only just begun.
UN teams had met children as young as 12 who served at police outposts, most doing chores like carrying ammunition or cooking, but still enduring dangerous attacks by insurgents.
They usually graduated to combat roles around 14 or 15 years of age, and sexual abuse often overlapped with child recruitment, he added.
"At the beginning there was no talk about that (sexual violence and abuse) at all; the government is at least willing to discuss it behind closed doors," said the official.
"There just isn't yet that jump to 'What are we going to do about it'," he said.
Wittig, who will chair the UN Security Council in July, said Germany was particularly concerned about attacks on schools and hospitals and would focus a security council debate and resolution in July around protecting education.
"The resolution we envisage will revolve around a general theme of protection of children in conflict, but more specifically attacks on schools and health facilities," he told a news conference in Kabul after a fact-finding mission.