” ‘Carrying Heavy Things is Not Easy, But I Have No Way,’ Says Young Worker”

By: Humayoon Babur


May 24, 2024


For many in Afghanistan, the struggle for basic necessities overshadows concerns over lost freedoms. Under Taliban rule, the poorest segments of society are fighting for survival, with children bearing the brunt of this struggle. One such child is Osman, a 10-year-old boy from the outskirts of Jalalabad, whose story mirrors the hardship faced by millions of Afghan children.

Osman’s father, who served in the Afghan army, was killed in 2006. His mother, left to care for Osman and his five sisters, found it impossible to provide for the family. Through the support of a neighbor who worked at the Torkham border, the main crossing point into Pakistan, Osman began working there.

“I can’t see any holidays,” he said. “I don’t know the meaning of life.” For Osman, the best days are those when he makes good money from passersby at Torkham, earning between 100 and 200 Afghanis daily. Yet, this comes at a cost. He often spends nights away from home, too embarrassed to return empty-handed if he hasn’t met his target.

The harsh realities of child labor are evident in the daily lives of these young workers. Osman’s routine involves early mornings and long hours, often resulting in missed meals and extreme fatigue. He recounts being beaten by security forces on both sides of the border and having his hard-earned money taken away. Despite these hardships, Osman sees Torkham as his “feeding place,” and school remains a distant dream, one his mother encourages but he feels is out of reach.

Climate Change: A Silent Agitator

The plight of children like Osman is exacerbated by climate change, which significantly impacts Afghanistan’s agricultural economy. Frequent droughts and floods have devastated farmlands, leaving many families without a stable source of income. According to a recent report by Hasht-E Subh, “Prolonged conflicts, climate change, economic recession, and rising unemployment are major factors contributing to increased poverty in Afghanistan.”

In March 2024, heavy rains and flash floods destroyed over 1,500 acres of agricultural land and more than 500 homes across various provinces. These climate-induced disasters compound the economic challenges already faced by Afghan families, pushing more children into labor as they try to make ends meet.


The Cycle of Poverty and Labor

Child labor in Afghanistan is a multifaceted issue, deeply intertwined with the country’s economic conditions. The World Bank reported a 100% increase in unemployment since the Taliban takeover in August 2021, leaving few job opportunities for adults and forcing children into work. Fawad, a 11-year-old shoe shiner in Kabul, earns between 50 to 150 Afghanis daily, his family’s sole income. Zareen Gul, a mechanic’s apprentice in the city of Taloqan, describes the physical toll of his work, returning home with painting legs each night.

In rural areas, children work as shepherds and farm or coal laborers. The earnings are meager, and the work is grueling. Ajmal, 10, and his younger brother in Baghlan, work in hot and cold  weather to support their family because their father is addicted.

Osman’s story is not unique. “During the lockdown (Covid 19), I was upset because everything was closed,” he said. “No passengers crossed the border. I’m not thinking of going to school; of course, my mum talks about the benefits of school.” His day-to-day survival depends on his work at the border, where he often faces physical challenges and abuse. “Carrying heavy things is not easy, but I have no way.”

The stories of these children reflect a grim reality: economic necessity drives them to work, often at the expense of their health and education. Zareen Gul supports his disabled father, while Fawad and Ajmal work due to economic hardship.

Efforts to combat child labor in Afghanistan are met with significant challenges. The Taliban’s restrictive policies, particularly those limiting women’s participation in the workforce, exacerbate the situation. The lack of accurate statistics makes it difficult to gauge the full extent of the problem, but estimates suggest that between one million and 3.7 million children are engaged in labor.

International organizations, such as UNICEF and Save the Children, highlight the urgent need for humanitarian aid. UNICEF reports that 23.7 million people, including 12.3 million children, will need humanitarian assistance in 2024. However, only 35% of the $1.4 billion required has been funded. The organization calls for prioritizing the safety of female staff and increasing support for vulnerable families.

Osman’s experience with border security is also telling of the broader issues faced by these children. “I have been beaten many times by security forces on both sides of the border,” he said. “One day, I recall, on the borderline, I don’t know his name, but he beat me and took all my earned money on that day. I was really upset, crying all day. It was a few years ago.” Despite these traumatic experiences, Osman continues to work, adapting to the harsh realities of his environment.

Amidst the stark realities of poverty and child labor in Afghanistan, Osman’s story stands as a poignant reminder of the urgent action needed. His narrative paints a vivid picture of survival, where earning a livelihood becomes the measure of a good day. Yet, beneath this struggle lies a deeper imperative—to protect the rights of children and provide them with the opportunities for education and basic services. Osman’s words serve as a clarion call, highlighting the necessity for unwavering dedication and collaborative endeavors in securing a brighter tomorrow for the youth of Afghanistan.

د دعوت رسنیز مرکز ملاتړ وکړئ
له موږ سره د مرستې همدا وخت دی. هره مرسته، که لږه وي یا ډیره، زموږ رسنیز کارونه او هڅې پیاوړی کوي، زموږ راتلونکی ساتي او زموږ د لا ښه خدمت زمینه برابروي. د دعوت رسنیز مرکز سره د لږ تر لږه $/10 ډالر یا په ډیرې مرستې کولو ملاتړ وکړئ. دا ستاسو یوازې یوه دقیقه وخت نیسي. او هم کولی شئ هره میاشت له موږ سره منظمه مرسته وکړئ. مننه

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