Cablegate: Embassy Pressure to Improve Conditions in Public

Published: Mon 30 Nov 2009 05:50 AM
DE RUEHBUL #3811/01 3340550
P 300550Z NOV 09
E.O. 12958: N/A
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: NGOs recently approached Embassy Kabul
with the news that the Afghan Ministry of Labor, Social
Affairs, Martyrs and the Disabled (MOLSA) has issued order to
close some residential orphanages for the winter. This
practice, apparently routine for the winter months, is a way
both to avoid costly heating bills and manage budget
shortfalls. The Ministry denies that residential orphanages
close for the winter; however, PRT evidence suggests
otherwise. In addition to humanitarian concerns, children
with nowhere to go could be vulnerable to insurgent madrassa
recruitment. Further, the Department of Orphanages is beset
by wide-ranging systemic problems. Embassy attention has
already proven partially effective in drawing MOLSA attention
to these problems. However, continued Embassy pressure will
be necessary to ensure MOLSA enforces its policies, monitors
its facilities, and keeps every orphanage open year-round.
Embassy Kabul will also work with other donors and NGOs to
address these issues. This cable is the second in a series on
children at risk in Afghanistan. END SUMMARY.
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2. (U) During a series of ten meetings conducted November
2-23, Poloff met with child protection specialists, NGOs, and
Ministry officials to assess the conditions of children in
orphanages that reportedly were facing possible winter
closures and to gain further clarification on ministry
policies and practices. As in many developing countries,
orphanages function partly as crisis centers for children at
risk and as boarding schools for the chronically poor;
orphanages provide food, shelter, and education for children
age 4-18 when their extended families cannot or will not
provide for them. In Afghanistan, an orphan is a child
lacking a father; fewer than 40 percent of the children in
the orphanages lack both parents. Ministry of Labor, Social
Affairs, Martyrs and the Disabled (MOLSA) runs two types of
facilities supporting more than 12,200 children at risk: 32
orphanages, which serve as 24-hour residential centers for
children age 4-18; and 22 Day Care Centers (DCCs), which are
non-residential crisis centers for vulnerable children to
receive food, education, medical attention, and structured
activity, including vocational training. The only USG-funded
program for this population is the Access English Language
program administered through the Embassy's Public Affairs
section. (NOTE: There are 10 privately-run orphanages in
country; Ministry officials acknowledge that these facilities
are better-run than the state facilities. This cable only
addresses conditions in the state-run facilities.)
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Tracking Down Rumored Closures
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3. (SBU) On November 12, Poloff met with Wasil Noor, Deputy
Minister of Social Affairs, MOLSA, to discuss an NGO report
that the Ministry was shuttering orphanages as part of its
annual money-saving campaign. Noor flatly denied the report,
insisting that even during the three-week H1N1 school closure
in November orphanages did not evict children. He insisted
that during emergency closures and annual holidays, which are
timed to Ministry of Education school closures, the children
themselves make the decision whether to stay or leave.
Poloff explained that information from the PRTs suggests that
this progressive policy is not being carried out in
provincial facilities. Indeed, PRTs reported that in
previous years, staff shuttered the orphanages in several
locations (Farah, Gardez, Ghor, Laghman, and Paktya) and some
orphanages were entirely closed during the H1N1 closure
(Farah, Khost, Nangarhar, and Paktika). (NOTE: PRT officials
and USAID field officers will make unannounced visits to the
orphanages throughout the winter to check whether the policy
is being enforced. END NOTE.)
4. (SBU) In response to Poloff's inquiry regarding MOLSA's
monitoring policies, Noor said they schedule one or two trips
per year to each facility. However, he complained that
security concerns made monitoring difficult. Poloff asked if
unannounced visits were part of the monitoring protocol; Noor
responded that they were not. (Note: During a November 23
meeting with Mr. Ahmad Komail, MOLSA's Director of External
Relations, Komail insisted that unannounced visits were the
norm. End Note.)
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Rampant Corruption and Abuse
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5. (SBU) MOLSA officials acknowledge that the state-run
orphanage system is riddled with corruption. Funds
KABUL 00003811 002 OF 003
reportedly do not reach their proper destination. While Noor
told us that MOLSA has sufficient budget for its needs,
lower-level officials complain about the low-levels of
funding. NGOs with whom Poloff met allege that some
lower-level staff are involved in a range of corrupt and
abusive practices, including: (a) black market activities in
donated goods; (b) violent abuse against children, including
sexual abuse; (c) facilitating bride price transfers for
girls; (d) stealing food; (e) assisting local police in
prostituting the children; (f) allowing the children to
supervise one another, which in some cases leads to children
inflicting physical and psychological violence on one
another; (g) gross levels of absenteeism; and (h) permitting
extremely unhealthy living conditions to flourish. One MOLSA
official claimed that girls are frequently raped by the
6. (SBU) Conditions in many orphanages are substandard:
buildings are inadequately heated, have poor or nonexistent
plumbing facilities, lack sufficient materials for schooling,
and the children often complain they don't have enough to
eat. Malnutrition and physical and mental illness are
common, and frequently go untreated. By law, no government
building may use heaters before December 15, a money-saving
strategy with potential health consequences for young
children. Poloff asked if an exception could be made for the
orphanages, and was told that a presidential decree is
required for such an exception.
7. (SBU) Noor asserted that he is aware of the of
capacity8 of his provincial staff and their penchant for
dipping into the till. After Poloff shared PRT photos of the
Chagcharan orphanage in Ghor as an example of a facility that
requires closer supervision, Noor responded that if MOLSA had
access to a US Embassy air flight, they would arrange for
monitors to travel to Ghor immediately.
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Interagency Solutions
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8. (U) Following Noor's request, we worked with the Ghor PRT
to arrange a US Embassy air flight for two MOLSA monitors to
visit the Chagcharan orphanage Nov. 21-24. The trip was
successful from a monitoring perspective; the MOLSA team
found the living conditions at the orphanage "unbearable,"
and submitted a detailed report with ten recommendations
addressing both immediate and long-term concerns at the
Chagcharan facility. One MOLSA recommendation was for
on-site MOLSA representation and/or frequent monitoring
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Comment and Action Plan
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9. (U) As a result of these reports, the Embassy has formed
an internal interagency group to share information and
brainstorm ways to address the orphanage crisis in
non-monetary ways. In addition to humanitarian interest, we
are concerned that when orphanages close for the school
holidays, children without families will gravitate toward
madrassas influenced or run by extremist interests as
shelter, although we do not have hard evidence that this is
happening. The same applies to 18 year-olds, who must leave
the facilities at the end of their grade 12 studies. It is
clear that on the basis of our inquiries, MOLSA is responding
proactively, at least in Kabul. We have requested copies of
their monitoring policies, and will continue to consider
non-financial incentives to encourage MOLSA to carry out
their mandate.
10. (SBU) Ensuring that the Government of Afghanistan
shelters and feeds this small but susceptible population
twelve months of the year is a small step that can reduce the
likelihood that these juveniles becomes vulnerable to
insurgent exploitation and madrassa recruitment. Embassy
Kabul plans to pursue the following actions:
--Continue to pressure GIROA to enforce their policies,
especially keeping orphanages open year-round;
--On a space-available basis, allow MOLSA monitors to travel
to provincial orphanages on US Embassy air flights;
--Conduct unannounced visits by USAID field and PRT officials
at the provincial orphanages, especially during school
holidays, to ensure year-round operation;
--Pressure GIROA to address winter heating problems;
--Develop public diplomacy strategies to raise awareness of
children's rights and to raise the profile of orphanages as
valuable examples of Islamic alms-giving institutions,
deserving of community support;
KABUL 00003811 003 OF 003
--Place a child protection advisor within MOLSA;
--Urge effective ministerial appointments; and
--Work to mobilize other embassies and international NGOs to
join us in these efforts.
11. (SBU) As GIROA moves forward with its renewed commitment
to appointing competent and capable people in key ministries,
MOLSA should be included as a ministry requiring immediate
attention. We will urge that MOLSA should replace current
staff with leaders with demonstrated commitment to social
welfare reform.
12. (SBU) Further, Embassy Kabul will continue to give
attention, including at the highest levels, to impress upon
GIROA officials that existing resources must be used
correctly. More funding is not a solution, and in the
short-term could simply exacerbate the problem of potential
corruption, without systemic reforms of monitoring practices.
It would be a mistake to direct more funding to the
orphanages without first strengthening MOLSA's capacity to
manage its budgets and to respond internally to misdirected
funds. Such reforms can yield significant results. End
Comment/Action Plan.
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