Afghanistan has had decades of political conflict and instability, and many families across the country have been left economically vulnerable as a result. It is estimated that as many as half of Afghan children have lost their fathers. In recent years, many young girls and boys have been forced to step in as the family’s breadwinners.
Walking down the streets in Kabul, one will instantly notice the children. The majority of them are working, weaving in and out of the people and cars peddling chewing gum, maps and Islamic books. Others carry tin cans of ‘spand’, a herb found across Afghanistan believed to ward off evil spirits. Some wait for drivers to park their cars and beg to be allowed to wash the vehicle for some change.
Child labour in Afghanistan is a persistent and growing phenomenon. According to the United Nations, some 50,000 Afghan children, both boys and girls, work on the streets of Kabul alone. Many are children of widows or disabled fathers, a result of years of instability and war, and are the sole source of income in the family. There are some who come from impoverished refugee families from Pakistan and Iran, where drought and a lack of opportunity has prompted many families to leave their homes there. Overall, UNICEF estimates that one third of Afghan children between five and fourteen are working in some form.
The consequences of children on the streets are worrying. With the influx of child workers, there has been an increase in cases of sexual abuse as well as concerns over health complications. Additionally, the long hours that the children are required to work prevent them from going to school, rendering them vulnerable to continued impoverishment in coming years. If children are the building blocks of a country’s future, where will that leave Afghanistan in the years to come?
~ Zekria Gulistani is an Afghan photographer based in Kabul