Quarter of Afghan Children Forced to Work

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) announced yesterday that almost one quarter of Afghan children are forced to work. Girls are more likely to be working than boys, and the problem is worst in rural areas, UNICEF says, pointing to “poverty, lack of educational opportunities, and the demand for cheap labor” as the principal conditions contributing to child labor. Additionally, the low rate of registered births in the war-torn country makes it difficult to verify a child’s actual age.

Much of child labor can be detrimental to the mental, physical, and social development of children. They are employed to cheaply perform often-dangerous labor. Employers prefer young workers, because, as Noriko Izumi, head of child protection for UNICEF in Afghanistan, points out, “Children are cheaper to employ than adults and easier to manipulate.”

UNICEF is urging the Afghan government to sign and ratify two conventions of the International Labor Organization: one concerns the minimum employment age and the other addresses hazardous work.

Still, many children are forced to work because of the lack of educational opportunities. Girls’ schools in particular have been targeted by Taliban insurgents. Teachers and parents who chose to educate girls have been targeted — including a girls’ school headmaster who was murdered in her home earlier this month — as well as students. Last week, two gunmen opened fire outside a girls’ school, killing two students and wounding six others.

LEARN MORE Read “School’s Out” in the Fall 2006 issue of Ms. magazine about the persecution of teachers and parents who educate girls

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UNICEF release 6/18/97; Feminist Majority Foundation

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