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AP PHOTOS: Backbreaking work for children in Afghan brick kilns

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by Ibrahim Noorozhi

22 September 2022 GMT

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KABUL, Afghanistan (TN) — Nabila works 10 hours or more a day, doing the heavy, messy labor of packing clay into molds and hauling a wheelbarrow full of bricks. At 12 years old, she has now spent half her life working in brick factories, and she is probably the eldest of all her coworkers.

Already too many, the number of children hired in Afghanistan is on the rise, driven by the collapse of the economy after the Taliban took the country and the world stopped financial aid just a year ago.

A recent survey by Save the Children estimated that half of the country’s households have hired children to put food on the table as livelihoods are crippled.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the many brick factories on the highway north of the capital, Kabul. The conditions in the furnaces are difficult even for adults. But in almost all of them, children as young as four or five years old are found working with their families from dawn till dark in the heat of summer.

Children are taking every step of the brick making process. They carry water canisters, wooden molds filled with clay to dry in the sun. They load and push a wheel full of dry bricks onto the kiln for firing, then push the wheel full of fired bricks back. They sifted through the smoldering charcoal burned in the kiln for pieces that could still be used, breathing the soot and singeing their fingers.

Children act with determination born of knowing something other than the needs of their family. When asked about toys or play, they smile and blush. Only a few have gone to school.

12-year-old Nabeela has been working in brick factories since the age of five or six. Like many other brick workers, his family works part of the year at a kiln near Kabul, the other part outside Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border.

A few years back he was supposed to go to school in Jalalabad. She wants to go back to school but can’t – her family needs her work to survive, she said with a soft smile.

“We can’t think of anything other than work,” she said.

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Mohabbat, a 9-year-old boy, paused for a moment with a painful expression as he carried a load of charcoal. “My back hurts,” he said.

When asked what he wanted, he first asked, “What is it?” Then after explaining once more, he fell silent for a moment, thinking. “I want to go to school and eat good food,” he said, then added: “I want to do good work so that we can have a house.”

The landscape around the factories is foggy and barren, black, sooty smoke billowing out of the smoke plumes of the kilns. Families live in dilapidated mud houses next to furnaces, each with a corner where they make their own bricks. For most people, the meal of a day is bread soaked in tea.

Rahim’s three children, aged between 5 and 12, work at a brick kiln. The children were in school, and Rahim, who goes by one name, said he had long resisted hiring them. But even before the Taliban came to power, as the war continued and the economy deteriorated, he said he had no choice.

“There is no other way,” he said. “How can they read when we have no bread to eat? Survival is more important. ,

Workers get the equivalent of $4 for every 1,000 bricks they make. The workers said that an adult working alone cannot do that much work in a day, but if children help, they can make 1,500 bricks a day.

According to surveys conducted by Save the Children, the number of households saying they have a child working outside the home rose from 18% to 22% from December to June. This shows that there were over 1 million children working across the country. The survey covered more than 1,400 children and more than 1,400 caregivers in seven provinces. Another 22% of the children said they were asked to work in the family business or on the farm.

The survey also pointed to a decline in livelihoods that Afghans have endured over the past year. In June, 77% of households surveyed reported that they had lost half or more of their income, compared with a year earlier, up from 61% in December.

Recently it started raining lightly on a kiln, and at first the children were happy, thinking it would be a refreshing drizzle in the summer. Then the wind picked up. A blast of dust fell on them, coating their faces. The air turned yellow with dust. Some of the kids couldn’t open their eyes, but they kept on working. The rain opened in a rain.

The children were wet. Water and mud was flowing from one boy, but like the others he said that he could not take shelter without finishing his work. Streams of driving rain carved trenches in the dirt around them.

“We’re used to it,” he said. Then he said to the other boy, “Hurry up, let’s finish it.”

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