Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) was designed to conduct regular monitoring of the conditions of fundamental rights in ten provinces of Afghanistan (29 districts) from 2015 to 2018 using a set of indicators based on internationally recognized monitoring standards. The findings from monitoring are expected to feed into informed, pragmatic, and constructive advocacy messaging on fundamental rights by civil society. The findings also serve as the evidence base to alert and sensitize governmental stakeholders on pressing, fundamental rights-related challenges of Afghan citizens.

This brief is based on the findings of ARM, on the issue of child labor. For more information on ARM, see: APPRO.ORG.AF

More than a 100 million children across the globe work in hazardous conditions in mining, agriculture, factories, domestic labor and other fields. In the world’s poorest countries, nearly one in four children are engaged in work that is potentially harmful to their health and social development. In South Asia, 12 per cent of children in the age group of 5 to 14 are performing potentially harmful work. Despite laws banning child labor in Afghanistan, an estimated 25 percent of Afghan children work full or part time, driven by the need to meet basic household necessities, such as food requiring regular income.

In 2014, Afghanistan made efforts to eliminate the worst forms of child labor. The Government announced a list of 29 occupations and working conditions prohibited for children and passed a law that criminalizes the recruitment of children under the age of 18 into state security institutions. The Government of Afghanistan has also ratified the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons to combat child trafficking. However, as with many other rights-related areas of legislation, laws and conventions prohibiting child labor are widely ignored because of the demand by exploitative employers looking for cheap labor and poor families needing regular income.

A recent assessment by Afghanistan Public Policy Research Organization (APPRO) finds that since December 2015 child labor has been on rise across Balkh, Bamyan, Daikundi, Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Khost, Kunduz, Nangarhar and Nimruz, the 10 provinces being monitored under Afghanistan Rights Monitor (ARM) by APPRO. The findings also indicate that there is no uniform awareness of the law pertaining to child labor. Child labor is also a major reason for the increase in school dropout rates.

Persistent and increasing poverty and unemployment and an absence of the rule of law appear to be the main drivers of the increase in child labor. Some forms of child labor, such as traditional apprenticeship arrangements in various crafts like carpentry, mechanics, and carpet weaving allow the children to continue their education and social development while they learn a skill. These occupations for children might be justifiable in the Afghan context. Other trades that require physical labor, and difficult and unsafe working environments, for example, brick making and heavy construction work have little or no protection for children’s rights. These sectors are, without a doubt, exploitative and deprive children of safety, education, and social development. In addition, working children can be subjected to physical and sexual abuse in unregulated and unprotected environments.

The risk of physical and sexual abuse is just one of the many consequences that come with child labor. The most significant impact of child labor is societal. Child labor not only causes damage to a child’s physical and mental health and development, it also results in the emergence of a generation of adults who have grown up in abusive conditions while being deprived of basic development needs, such as access to education and nurture that only a family could provide. The likelihood of many of these children becoming the abusers of the next generation of children is, therefore, quite high.

In managing the issue of child labor in Afghanistan, the following factors and related recommendations may be considered:

  1. No amount of legislation alone is going to put a stop to the exploitation of children in the labor market. Concurrent with legislation, there is a need for a better understanding of the dynamics of different workplaces that employ children. This will require dedicated assessment and research of the current conditions of working children.
  2. The acquired understanding of the conditions of child labor based on in-depth research would distinguish between traditional apprenticeship mechanisms with working children, and exploitative child labor.
  3. Within the traditional apprenticeship mechanisms, and working closely with the employers and parents, all efforts should be made to negotiate dedicated rights for children working as apprentices in recognized and legitimate trades. These rights must include access to education, protection at the workplace against heavy physical work and physical injury, a mentoring system that could be utilized by children faced with physical and sexual harassment, and access to sufficient food and adequate sanitary provisions. As much as possible, these efforts should be aligned with numerous, trade-based vocational training and apprenticeship training programs, being provided by international donors.
  4. Within unregulated, often not fully legitimate occupations, protecting children’s rights will be difficult at best. The exploitation of children in unregulated trades may only be tackled through the exercise of the legal provisions governing workplaces. This would include surprise inspections by government officials from the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and the Disabled (MoLSAMD), and prosecuting employers who exploit children from poor families. This type of law enforcement is likely to succeed only if it has the support of the parents and the community more broadly, however.
  5. For economically disadvantaged parents to recognize, and act on, the perils of child labor, there is a need for a system of incentives to dissuade the parents from sending their children to work. At the same time, efforts should be made to increase parents’ awareness of children’s rights than current levels. Awareness raising should include reference to the legal provisions pertaining to child labor and the consequences of non-compliance, and specific reference to the 29 types of labor prohibited for children by the Government of Afghanistan.
  6. Schools must assume a more dedicated role in ensuring that children do not drop out of school to be employed as child labor. All cases of such dropouts must be collated and reported to the Ministry of Education and MoLSAMD, demanding action.