Afghan child labour

Working children remain vulnerable in Afghanistan

Khadija, Navid, Qais, Wahidullah, and Rohullah are child labours who sell shopping bags and chewing gum in Kote Sangi, a busy market in the western part of Kabul. These child labours who are doomed to support their families complain about a drastic decline in sale and harsh behavior of the people during the outbreak of Covid-19.

The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has put a negative effect on livelihood of vulnerable groups—particularly the Afghan child labor in Kabul. According to a report published by Save the Children Organization, “seven million children are at risk of starvation. The number of working children has risen sharply, and nearly two million children under the age of five are suffering from severe hunger. If this situation continues and the families of these children do not receive assistance, two million children would be losing their life.”  

The 11-year-old Khadija, shopping bags in her hand, was standing in the middle of crowded street filled by many vendors, customers and transporters. She was waiting for customer to buy a bag from her. “Since the start of lockdown, I haven’t sold any shopping bag. When I ask people to buy, they tell me to keep distance and they start cursing me if I resist,” she says. Khadija says that she cannot go to other places to sell her bags due to security reasons. “Here I am protected by the vendors and if anyone dares to bother me, I would tell the vendors.”

A growing financial pressure is on the rise while the Afghan government is facing multiple challenges.   

“Before the outbreak, 5.26 million children were in need of humanitarian aid,” said Maryam Atayee, spokeswoman for Save the Children organization. “However, now 8.12 million children are in need of humanitarian aid in the country.”

Khadija and her younger sister Aisha are the only breadwinners in their family of nine members. While talking to Khadija, the nine-year-old Navid stopped by and shared his concern on losing his income. “In the past, I used to earn 80 to 100 afghanis per day, but now I only earn 20 to 30 afghanis and sometimes I earn nothing.”

According to 13-year-old Qais, Navid’s elder brother, who sell shopping bags, their father is sick and their elder brother is with disability. Qais and Navid work together to earn 3,500 afghanis per month to pay the house rent. “These days when I ask people to buy shopping bags, they ignore, curse, and even some of them slap me,” says Qais.

According to official report published by the Ministry of Public Health, so far no child has tested positive for coronavirus. Akmal Samsor, spokesman for the MoPH told Kabul Now that the number of children affected by coronavirus is very low.

Meanwhile, the child protection department at Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) says that three or four children in Western and Northern provinces of the country were affected by the virus and recovered over past few months. “So far, no deaths have been reported among the young aged children as the result of coronavirus,” says AIHRC.

Najibullah Babrakzai, head of the child protection department at AIHRC, says that the outbreak of coronavirus in Afghanistan has stopped children from getting education.

Sharp rise in number of working children

According to the report, more than 60 percent of the Afghans live below the poverty line. The outbreak of Covid-19 and subsequent rise in poverty rate have affected livelihood and life of the poor families throughout the country.    

Officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Afghanistan (MoLSA) says that the number of working children has risen sharply. With the outbreak of coronavirus and rising financial burdens, poor families found them forced to send their children out for working, says Abdul Fattah Eshrat Ahmadzai, spokesman for MoLSA.

Although rich families prefer to stay at home to avoid being infected by the coronavirus, working children, without fear of catching the virus, continue to work on the streets.

The 10-year-old Wahidullah, who can hardly carry a kettle full of cookies, was shouting to attract customers to buy his cookies. Wahidullah has not worked before but since the start of outbreak, he started selling cookies as his old father is unable to earn the same amount of money as before. “At first, I found it difficult but now I have learned how to sell. People rarely buy cookies and a number of them throw my cookies away and see me as corona patient though I am not sick,” says Wahidullah.

Children in Afghanistan remain the most vulnerable group. The ongoing conflict coupled with the outbreak of Covid-19 expose them to dangers. Najibullah Babrakazi says that working children face challenges such as harassment, violence, humiliation and rape. “The girls who sell on the streets are more likely to be sexually abused,” he says.