Afghanistan’s child workers lost jobs due to COVID-19 lockdown


Afghani children are now off the streets and confined to their homes as the government implemented lockdowns to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. An estimated 60,000 children works in Kabul’s streets, their earnings supplementing their households, according to the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF.

At least a quarter of Afghan children between the ages of five and 14 work to support themselves or their families, according to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, and only about half of them attend school.

But with the coronavirus outbreak, children and their families are now stuck in their homes, raising concerns in families about to make up for this drop in earnings.

The government put the city of six million people on lockdown on March 28 to curb the spread of coronavirus, with offices, public transportation, and most businesses closed.

Many people initially defied the movement restrictions, showing up to work and trying to keep markets open, but the police have since cracked down, setting up checkpoints in the city, detaining violators, and ordering people to go home.

About 380 infections have been confirmed in Afghanistan and seven deaths, including one doctor treating COVID-19 patients.

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers have returned from neighbouring Iran, pushing up the numbers of infections in Afghanistan.

Yet with limited testing available and many not seeking immediate medical care when sick, actual figures are estimated to be much higher.

Before the pandemic, the Ministry of Public Health had allocated an annual US$5 per citizen for healthcare in the 35-million strong country and is now scrambling for further funds.

In Afghanistan, a country that has faced four decades of war and continues to see fighting on a daily basis, the lockdown has many people swinging between fears of catching coronavirus and fears of going hungry due to soaring unemployment.

Child workers are a key source of income for many families and can legally work up to 35 hours a week from the age of 14.

However aid and human rights groups say child labour laws are routinely flouted. Many face harassment and abuse at work.

“There are many dangers on the streets,” said Sonia Nezami, education director at Action for Development, an Afghan aid organisation getting child labourers off the streets and into schools.

“Children are sometimes mistreated and yelled at. They are considered cheap labour and might work hard but earn little.”

As the lockdown spread across Afghanistan, many families were left concerned about not having an income. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)