Every day before the sun rises, 10-year-old Kamran goes to work with his father and other family members at a building materials factory outside Kabul.
For Kamran and other children in Afghanistan, going to school is not a possibility. Kamran’s father, Atiqullah, supports his family of eight as well as others. One of Kamran’s uncles is sick and another has died, leaving their families in his father’s care.
“My children wake up early in the morning and right after prayers they come...for work, so they don’t have time for school,” Atiqullah told the Associated Press.
“These days if you don’t work, you cannot survive,” he said.
The United States and its allies have given billions of dollars in aid to Afghanistan since their invasion to remove the country’s Taliban leadership from power 18 years ago. But the country remains severely affected by poverty.
Signs of it are everywhere. Children beg in the streets. Entire families, including children as young as 5, work at places like brick factories in the heat.
Atiqullah’s family comes from the eastern Nangarhar province. It is an area that the Taliban as well as an Islamic State-linked group operate in. The area has seen heavy fighting in recent years.
Brick factory owners travel to the small communities and offer loans to help families cover basic needs. They then force families to repay the loans through work during the summer months. Workers say a family of 10 can bring in about $12 to $18 a day, depending on how much they produce.
Shubham Chaudhuri spent three years as the World Bank country director for Afghanistan. He said more than half of Afghans live on less than a dollar a day. That is the amount considered necessary to meet basic survival needs.
Chaudhuri added that up to three-quarters of the population “was close to that level.”
A United Nations report released last year said that more than 2 million Afghan children between the ages of 6 and 14 were doing some form of child labor. Laws governing child labor in Afghanistan are poorly enforced, especially in areas far from cities.
Afghanistan’s economy grew by just 2% last year, the slowest rate in South Asia. Continued conflict, a lack of rain and widespread corruption limited that growth.
The activist group Transparency International often includes Afghanistan as among the world’s most corrupt countries. Most of the international aid has gone to former warlords. They live in protected communities and keep the money hidden.
Widespread suffering and anger at the country’s leaders worsened the conflict. It also increased the Taliban’s membership. The group now effectively controls about half the country. They have held several meetings with the U.S. in recent months. Taliban leaders are seeking a deal that would lead foreign forces to withdraw.
A World Bank report said a political agreement with the Taliban could improve the economy. It could encourage the return of investment and skilled workers from other countries – but only if the security situation improves.
Jan Agha works alongside Atiqullah’s family in the brick factories. The 65-year-old man has little hope for the future. He has been repaying loans for more than 30 years. He spent 20 of those years as a refugee living in neighboring Pakistan. His four sons have already joined him in his work. He expects his grandchildren and great-grandchildren to do the same.
“We always think about our future,” he said. “We don’t know how long we will live with economic problems like this, when we will be able to live our own lives, when we will be able to breathe in freedom. Right now we live like slaves.”
I’m Anne Ball.
Words in This Story
uncle(s) – n. the brother of your father or mother or the husband of your aunt
beg – v. to ask people for money or food
brick – n. a small, hard block of baked clay that is used to build structures such as houses and sometimes to make streets or paths
province – n. any one of the large parts that some countries are divided into
basic – adj. forming or relating to the most important part of something
warlord(s) – n. a leader of a military group who is not officially recognized and who fights against other leaders, groups, or governments
encourage – v. to make something more appealing or more likely to happen