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Working 10 or more hour days, Nabila does the heavy, dirty work of packing clay into molds and hauling wheelbarrows full of bricks. At 12, she has now been working in brickworks for half her life and is probably the oldest of her colleagues.
already high, The number of children working in Afghanistan is growingfueled by the collapse of the economy after the Taliban took over the country and the world stopped providing financial aid just over a year ago.
A recent Save the Children survey estimated this Half of Afghan families put children to work to keep the food on the table when livelihoods collapsed.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the many roadside brick factories north of the capital Kabul. The conditions in the ovens are difficult even for adults. But in almost all of them, four or five-year-olds work with their families from early morning until late at night in midsummer.
Children do every step of the brick making process. They carry barrels of water, load the wooden brick molds with mud to set out in the sun to dry. They carry and push wheelbarrows full of kiln-dried bricks to burn and then push wheelbarrows full of baked bricks back. Everywhere they lift, stack, sort bricks. They rummage through the smoldering charcoal that has burned out in the blast furnace for pieces that are still usable, inhale the soot and singe their fingers.
The children work beyond their years with a determination and fierce sense of responsibility, born from the knowledge that they know little more than the needs of their families. When asked about toys or games, they smile and shrug. Few went to school.
Nabila, the 12-year-old girl, has been working in brick factories since she was five or six. Like many other brick workers, his family works part of the year in a kiln near Kabul and part of the year in one on the outskirts of Jalalabad, near the Pakistan border.
A few years ago he was able to go to school a bit in Jalalabad. She would like to go back to school but she can’t, her family needs her job to survive, she said with a gentle smile.
“We can’t think of anything but work,” he said.
Mohabbat, a 9-year-old boy, paused for a moment with a pained expression on his face as he carried a load of coal. “My back hurts”said.
When asked what he wished for, he first asked, “What is a wish?”
Once explained, he was silent for a moment and thought. “I want to go to school and eat well,” he said, later adding, “I want to work well so we can have a home.”
The landscape around the factories is desolate and arid, the blast furnace chimneys spewing black smoke and soot. The families live in ramshackle mud houses next to the kilns, each with a corner where they make their bricks. For most, the meal of the day is bread soaked in tea.
Rahim has three children aged 5 to 12 who work with him in a brick factory. The children had gone to school and Rahim, who goes by only one name, said he had long resisted letting them work. But even before the Taliban came to power, as the war raged on and the economy deteriorated, he said he had no choice.
“There is no other way,” he said. “How can they learn if we have no bread to eat? Survival is more important.”
Workers are paid the equivalent of $4 for every 1,000 bricks they make. A single adult can’t make that many in a day, but if the kids help, they can make 1,500 bricks a day.workers said.
According to Save the Children surveys, the proportion of families who say they let a child work outside the home rose from 18% to 22% from December to June. That would indicate Over 1 million children across the country worked. Another 22% of children said they were asked to work in the family business or on the farm.
The surveys included more than 1,400 children and more than 1,400 caregivers in seven provinces. They also pointed to the rapid collapse of Afghan livelihoods. In June, 77% of families surveyed said they lost half or more of their income year-on-year, up from 61% in December.
It recently started to rain lightly at one of the kilns and at first the children were cheerful, thinking it would be a refreshing drizzle in the heat. Then the wind picked up. A cloud of dust hit them, covering their faces. The air turned yellow with dust. Some of the children could not open their eyes, but they continued to work. The rain opened to a downpour.
The children were soaked. One boy was leaking water and mud, but like the others he said he could not find shelter without finishing his work. Torrents of torrential rain dug ditches in the earth around them.
“We are used to it”, said. Then he said to another boy: “Hurry up, let’s finish it.”
(with information and photos from AP)