Almost one in four young Afghan children forced to work, says UNICEF

18 June 2007 –

Poverty, lack of educational opportunities and the demand for cheap labour are helping to fuel the prevalence of child labour across Afghanistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today.

Nearly one quarter of Afghan children between the ages of seven and 14 are working, with more girls working than boys and the problem worst in rural areas, Noriko Izumi, head of child protection for UNICEF in Afghanistan, said at a press conference in Kabul.

“Poverty and low family income levels force children to work to support their family,” said Ms. Izumi.

While some types of work serve to teach children new skills that can help them become responsible and productive adults, she said work that interferes with the education of children and affects their mental, physical and social well-being is considered child labour.

“It is those jobs which are detrimental to children’s development that we are talking about.”

Lack of educational opportunities also pushes a child to work, as did the demand for cheaper labour, she stated, adding “children are cheaper to employ than adults and easier to manipulate. It is easier to hire and fire children.”

The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that 218 million children worldwide, from 5 to 17 years old, are engaged in some kind of labour, with 126 million children engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

UNICEF is working on several fronts to tackle child labour in Afghanistan, which already has a number of legal and policy instruments to protect children, including a national strategy for children at risk and a child labour law defining the legal age of employment.

At the same time, it urged the Afghan Government to sign and ratify two important ILO conventions – one concerning the minimum age of employment and the other one regarding hazardous work.

Among the challenges for UNICEF is difficulty verifying a child’s age because of the low birth registration rate in the country, which has emerged from decades of conflict.

“It is also difficult to regulate informal sectors like agriculture where we know many children are employed in Afghanistan,” Ms. Izumi added.

UNICEF’s interventions in the country include non-formal education, which it hopes will help transit the child to formal schooling, and vocational skills training for older children. It is also supporting children “associated with armed forces and other war-affected children.” Since 2003, over 12,600 children have been supported in 29 provinces with literacy classes and vocational training.

Ms. Izumi noted that while there are fewer children now involved in child labour globally, that does not seem to be the case in the Asia-Pacific region. “So we still have lots of work to do in this region.”

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