NOTE: This is a guest blog post from Fazel M. Wasit, Country Director of GoodWeave Afghanistan.
On my way to the GoodWeave office in Kabul, I pass by kids as young as 7 who are also on their way to work–selling chewing gum, cigarettes and plastic bags for small change. Instead of being in school, they are washing cars or polishing shoes.
Child labor is illegal in Afghanistan, but it is pervasive due to extreme poverty, our fragile political situation and inadequate law enforcement. The problem is further exacerbated by a lack of access to education.
Consider the following from recent UNICEF and Save the Children reports:
- Children in Afghanistan face the greatest risk of death of any country.
- More than 5 million Afghan children–42% of the country’s child population–are not in school.
- Many Afghan children who are put to work are sold into bonded labor, endure sexual exploitation or are forced into early marriage.
But the kids I worry about most are not the ones I see working in the street, but the children hidden away at the looms. Weaving is taxing work for adults, but it is even more dangerous for kids. Named by the International Labour Organization as one of the worst forms of child labor, children weaving carpets often hurt themselves using sharp tools, suffer deformations from long hours hunched over looms and respiratory infections from inhaling wool fibers.
The problem of child labor aside, we are proud of our carpet weaving tradition. The Afghan carpet industry is the largest source of legal employment in the country, providing direct employment for 2 million Afghans and indirect income for another 2 million. Most looms are home-based, with women weaving to earn income in between other household duties.
In other parts of the world, daycare facilities are considered essential to working women, yet very few exist in Afghanistan, particularly in rural areas. Consequently, women’s ability to earn income can be hampered by the necessity to tend to their children. Worse still, children are more likely to get pulled into carpet weaving or other forms of labor simply to keep them occupied. Incidents have even been reported of parents sedating their children with crushed opium seeds so that they can weave without distraction.
Daycare is a simple yet powerful tool for change, enabling women to concentrate on their work and earn more income while knowing their children are in a safe place. Meanwhile they provide their children an educational foundation, in turn preventing them for prematurely entering the workforce. The increased income also make it easier for families to send their older children to school, which in turn will give them better employment opportunities as adults and help break the intergenerational cycle of poverty.
I’m proud to share that GoodWeave is now breaking ground for the early childhood education program and daycare in Afghanistan, serving the children of women weavers in the northern Balkh Province–the first of many social and educational programs planned to support Afghanistan’s weaving communities.
Education, from pre-school to higher education, is the key to Afghanistan’s future. It’s the only way for families to get out of poverty, and it’s the only way my country can rebuild itself.
Click here to learn more about our work in Afghanistan.
Photo: A third of all primary school-aged kids in Afghanistan spend their childhoods at work rather than in school. Photo by Beth Gottschling Huber.