Afghan child labor fears grow as aid dries up

Tue Feb 7, 2012 7:42am EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - Dwindling development aid as the war winds down in Afghanistan means child labor in the impoverished country is at risk of becoming more widespread, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) warned on Tuesday.

Half of Afghanistan's population of 30 million are under 15, with almost two million children in full or part-time work, UNICEF estimates of a country where war, poverty, unemployment and pride in having large families have created a huge underage labor market.

With foreign troops fighting Taliban insurgents pulling out by the end of 2014, global attention is dolefully shifting away from Afghanistan and its humanitarian needs, said the ILO's representative to Kabul Herve Berger.

"The issue of child labor may fall below the radar screen and be seen as less important after 2014," Berger told Reuters. "What is key here is ensuring enough sustainability."

Berger cited a report by the UN agency detailing one of the worst forms of child labor -- brickmaking in the dusty kilns in the country's east, where children work in a slavish cycle of debt that is almost impossible to escape.

Though both child labor and so-called bonded work are illegal in Afghanistan, children as young as five churn out hundreds of bricks a week for a few dollars to pay off family debts which swell the longer they work there.

Poor health from harsh working conditions, reliance on shelter and electricity provided by brick employers and denied education mean brickmakers are tied to their work.

With Afghanistan's construction boom -- a third of which is supported by foreign aid -- expected to dampen as aid dries up, brick demand will slump and the children will be forced further into poverty as the balance tips in favor of the employers.   Continued...

<p>An Afghan boy harvests wheat at his father's farm outside Kabul June 9, 2011. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail</p>