Street kids without a future in Kabul could become a heavy burden for Afghan society. Some NGOs are trying to get them off the street and introduce them to another world, one of music, dance and education.
Two young children begging in Kabul
Afghanistan is the fifth poorest country in the world. Over 40 percent of its inhabitants live in poverty. Children are the hardest hit. For many of them, the street is both a playground and a home. There are tens of thousands of homeless children aged between five and 18 in the Afghan capital Kabul.
Many of them are orphans. Those who have parents often live in very volatile conditions. "Most of these kids are earners for their family,” says Hassan Palwasha from AWEC, the Afghan Women’s Education Center. "Some of them have family, their mother or their father is alive or both, but since they don’t have enough income, the families or siblings send them out onto the streets. Sometimes the mother is also working on the street. In this case, there is nobody really protecting them."
Children are the hardest hit by poverty in war-torn Afghanistan
Hard labor and crime
The children sometimes work up to 16 hours a day to get some money together. They sell anything they can get from plastic bags to newspapers. They wear ragged clothing. In winter, they cannot afford to wear socks under their rubber slippers. Many of them are in urgent need of medical care. Some turn to crime on their own. Others are forced by organized rings to turn to crime.
"Some gangs and groups use some of these kids, they organize meetings about stealing and other stuff," explains Palwasha. “Maybe it’s not very huge yet here in Afghanistan but it’s very important to tackle or address at this point otherwise it could grow larger and there will be a future problem of more crime."
Some children play soccer in a dried-out riverbed in downtown Kabul
Lack of education
Most of the children have never been to school and have very few job prospects. Often, their only chance of escaping the streets is to go into the army or the police. Even though the minimum age requirement is supposed to be 18 according to a rule introduced by President Hamid Karzai, many underage boys register. Then they become easy prey. Some elements of the army and police are notorious for sexually abusing young people from their own ranks.
A few kids are able to escape misery by being taken in by NGOs that try to introduce them to other worlds, to music and dance, in order to give them some hope. Mrs Barmaki from the Human Rights Commission explains that the children need protection: "All of them are in big cities. And we try our best to monitor the situation and protect them in case of violence."
However, the lucky few that are protected are exceptions. Most of the tens of thousands of street children go ignored and forgotten. Observers fear that their situation will not improve until the country's political and economic situation improves.
Author: Majid Malek / Jasmin Reimann / act
Editor: Disha Uppal