(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Children work the streets to support families

[Afghanistan] Thousands of children work the streets of Kabul to sustain their families.
David Swanson/IRIN

Ahmad Wali, 9, is combing the rubbish dump for soda cans to sell as a way to support his 11-member family in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Thousands of children work the streets to help their households through the harsh winter.

“They [empty soda cans] are easily available everywhere and more profitable than other metals which we collect and then sell in the city,” Wali told IRIN, as he shivered with cold.

“The price of 1kg of these [aluminium] cans is equal to 7kg of other metals that we collect and sell. That is why many children are trying to find more soda cans and earn more money for their families,” said Wali, who is making up to US$3 a day.

“I have to work hard as my father lost his job and it has become very difficult for us to get by and pay the monthly rent for our house,” he explained.

There are no accurate figures on how many children work in Kabul but aid workers fear the number is rising. Some estimates put the number of youngsters working as labourers or beggars in Kabul at about 37,000 in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available.

“Unfortunately, the number of street children is increasing day by day in our country because of the widespread poverty and a lack of proper work opportunities for people,” Mohammad Yousef, director of ASCHIANA, a local NGO supporting working children and their families, said in Kabul.

Afghanistan is ranked 173rd out of 178 on the Human Development Index calculated by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which estimates that 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day.

A survey released by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in May 2006 revealed that 60 percent of families surveyed stated that almost half their children were involved in some kind of labour.

A report by the UK-based charity Oxfam in November 2006 warned that seven million children, almost half the total in the country, were missing out on education. Oxfam said about six million were stunted due to malnutrition.

“Educating Afghanistan’s children is crucial in improving their lives and in the rebuilding and development of the country. But poverty, crippling fees and huge distances to the nearest schools prevent parents from sending their children to school,” Grace Ommer, head of Oxfam GB in Afghanistan, said.

In an effort to help working children, ASCHIANA has opened seven vocational centres in Kabul and three in different provinces where more than 7,000 street children are learning about carpentry, tailoring, computers, music and theatre.

Almost 15,000 street children have attended ASCHIANA classes since it started operating in Kabul in 1995, and hundreds have found jobs so far, Yousef explained.

Wali is just one of the children benefiting from the classes. “During the afternoon I study English, Maths and other subjects at ASCHIANA to learn something and find a good job in the future,” the boy said.

Abdul Karim Hamid, head of labour law at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, said it had established 16 vocational training centres in different provinces. About 12,000 street children and unemployed youths are being trained in various trades ranging from carpentry, tailoring, carpet weaving to English language and computers. The programmes, which began in 2003, last six months to one year.

Officials of the MLSA said they were planning to enroll 150,000 unemployed and impoverished youth in training centres by 2010.

“We are trying to establish more well-equipped vocational training centres across the country but our major problem is a lack of funds,” Hamid said.

Aid workers say more funds are needed to tackle the problem and the Oxfam report called on international donors to channel funds through the Afghan Ministry of Education and requested the international community invest $563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country.


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