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Children work in brick factories to help pay off family debts

Boys and girls alike work in the factories to help their parents pay-off their debts. Gulam Rasol Hasas/IRIN
Over 2,200 children are working long hours in dozens of brick-making factories in Nangarhar Province, eastern Afghanistan, to pay off their families' debts, a survey by the Child Action Protection Network (CAPN), an Afghan body, has found.

Up to 90 percent of 2,298 children - boys and girls - who work in 38 brick-making factories in Sorkhrod District of Nangarhar Province do not go to school and are deprived of other means of education, said the survey conducted by a local non-government organisation (NGO), Wadan Afghanistan.

The survey which was completed in March and made available to IRIN in April has been endorsed by CAPN, a network of several government and non-governmental organisations involved in child protection and development efforts.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other partner NGOs said efforts were under way to establish community-based schools and facilitate vocational training for children in Sorkhrod's brick-making community.

Key findings of CAPN/Wadan Afghanistan survey
Brick-making factories - 38
Total families - 556
Total children - 3,456
Child labourers - 2,298
Children going to school - 257
Children not going to school - 2,071
Children with disabilities - 51

Source: Wadan Afghanistan/ CAPN Survey 2008


Almost all of the 556 families that live in mud-huts and shacks around brick-making factories in Sorkhrod District said they owed large amounts of money to factory owners and a group of brick merchants who have employed them as wage labourers.

"Debt levels vary from 40,000 Afghanis [US$800] to 100,000 Afghanis [$2,000]," said Haji Hayat Khan, director of the department of labour and social affairs in Nangahar Province, whose organisation is also a member of CAPN.

Many families not only find it difficult to pay-off their debts but also remain trapped in a cycle of unending debt due to high interest rates imposed by some lenders.

"Some families are in debt for many years," Hayat Khan told IRIN, adding that the only available option for families to survive was to work as "slaves" in factories.

Officials at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in Kabul said the government would encourage NGOs and aid agencies to help indebted families pay off their debts through short- and long-term loan schemes.

"Obviously the government alone cannot pay all their debts," said Wasil Noor Mohmand, a deputy labour and social affairs minister.

Photo: Gulam Rasol Hasas/ IRIN
The majority of the 2,298 children who work in brick-making factories in Sorkhrod District are below 15 years of age, according to the Wadan Afghanistan/CAPN survey
Broken bones

In an effort to simultaneously pay-off debts and meet daily requirements almost all parents in Sorkhrod's brick-making community make their children work alongside them as wage labourers, the CAPN survey found.

"Children work 8-12 hours a day to help their parents meet their financial needs," said Mohammad Afzal, the head of Wadan Afghanistan in Nangarhar Province.

Children face various risks at work and some of them sustain serious injuries such as broken bones due to the heavy nature of the brick-making labour, child protection NGOs said.

Afghanistan is a signatory to the UN Convention on Children's Rights and other treaties which prohibit child labour, but the country's human rights watchdog said institutional mechanisms designed to translate formal commitments into appropriate action were absent.

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