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Afghanistan worst place to be born: UN

Afghanistan is the most dangerous place in the world for a child to be born, the UN has said.It is especially dangerous for girls, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) said on Thursday, in launching its annual report: The State of the World's Children, the Online news agency reported.

world Updated: Nov 20, 2009 19:08 IST

Afghanistan is the most dangerous place in the world for a child to be born, the UN has said.

It is especially dangerous for girls, the UN Children's Fund (Unicef) said on Thursday, in launching its annual report: The State of the World's Children, the Online news agency reported.

Afghanistan has the highest infant mortality rate in the world -- 257 deaths per 1,000 live births, and 70 percent of the population lacks access to clean water, the agency said.

As Taliban insurgents increase their presence across the country, growing insecurity is also making it hard to carry out vital vaccination campaigns against polio, a crippling disease still endemic in the country, and measles that can kill children.

"Afghanistan today is without a doubt the most dangerous place to be born," Daniel Toole, Unicef regional director for South Asia, told a news briefing.

A Taliban-led insurgency and militant attack on an international guesthouse in Kabul that killed five UN foreign staff last month prompted the world body to evacuate hundreds of international staff from Afghanistan for several weeks.

Some 43 percent of the country is now virtually off-limits to aid agencies due to insecurity, according to Toole. The Taliban have been building their forces in their traditional southern and eastern Afghanistan stronghold and are increasing attacks in the north and west.

Teaching girls is one of the practices they forbid. Some 317 schools in Afghanistan were attacked in the past year, killing 124 and wounding another 290, Toole said. "We have seen a drop in the number of children who are attending schools and particularly young girls," he added.

School enrolment in Afghanistan had risen to five million, including two million girls, against one million with virtually no girls in 2001 when the Taliban were ousted from power, he said.

"In Afghanistan and Pakistan we've made some progress but we're starting to worry about back-tracking on that progress given the high rates of insecurity and the ongoing conflict," Toole said.

Meanwhile, Unicef has urged the world to help the one billion children still deprived of food, shelter, clean water or health care - and the hundreds of millions more threatened by violence.