Children Try to Make a Living on Afghan Streets

Children Try to Make a Living on Afghan Streets

Street kids in Kabul warm themselves by a makeshift fire.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR

Street kids in Kabul warm themselves by a makeshift fire.

Ruzadin, 11, stands with fellow street children in Kabul.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR

Ruzadin, 11, (left) holding his can of burning incense, stands with fellow street children in the trendy Shahre-Naw district of Kabul.

Fahim, 11, waves his can of burning incense inside a car on a busy Kabul street.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR

Fahim, 11, waves his can of burning incense inside a car on a busy Kabul street, seeking alms from the driver.

Malayeh, 11, tries to hawk gum to a driver on a busy street in Kabul.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR

Malayeh, 11, tries to hawk gum to a driver on a busy street in Kabul.

Morning Edition, January 30, 2008 · On any given day in the towns and cities of Afghanistan, tens of thousands of children head to the streets to beg and hawk sundries — even during the winter, when bitter winds and snow keep most adults indoors.

These street kids, who earn on average less than $2 a day, are often the only means of support for their families. And their numbers are growing.

In Kabul’s trendy Shahre-Naw neighborhood, 10-year-old Jamal, a waif of a salesman in faded pink boots, is hawking gum for about 20 cents. Determined to score a sale, no matter what, he chases after pedestrians and darts in and out of snarled traffic.

"I’m a little scared of the cars," he says. "One hit me coming the wrong way down the street. But I wasn’t hurt too bad."

Jamal says he has worked on this corner for four years. He is one of an estimated 60,000 children in Afghanistan who work the streets, says Mohammad Yousef, who heads Aschiana, a nonprofit group that helps street kids.

"Majority of them, they are not going to the school because they are working full time," Yousef says. "Early in the morning, they are starting, they are working. Until evening they are working to have a piece of bread or something for their families."

A Legacy of War

Yousef says Afghanistan’s street kids are the legacy of a quarter-century of war that stripped the country of safety nets like schools and social services. Growing unemployment and living costs are swelling their numbers.

He and others say the Afghan government has done little to help street children, given other burning issues like the ongoing war against the Taliban.

Many of the street kids take their plight in stride. They help each other, too — for good luck, they say — like giving some money to a boy or girl who fails to sell anything. But a few admit they hate being out on the streets.

Eleven-year-old Ruzadin, a pale boy with weathered skin and a faded wool cap, says it’s like being a beggar. He hounds passersby with a soft, monotonous plea for 10 cents, while waving a can of burning incense to ward off the evil eye.

Next year, Ruzadin hopes to do something more rewarding, such as working in a hotel or store like his older brother.

Helping the Next Generation

Yousef says that’s not good enough. He fears that kids like Ruzadin will become another generation of undereducated, underemployed adults who send their children to work on the streets.

His group, Aschiana, offers classes to thousands of street kids — such as one in Kabul that teaches them to play traditional Afghan musical instruments — to try to break the cycle. They also teach the children to read and write. The idea, Yousef says, is to boost their skills and ambition.

The children attend class for only a few hours each day, so they can still earn money for their families. Ahmad Zia, 14, learned to play the accordion-like Armonia and wants to become a famous musician. But he has no plans to give up his day job.

"Why should I be upset about having to work the streets?" he says. "I have no choice. My father is old, my mother is weak and only I can make the household run. So I need to sell plastic bags."

Afghan singer and activist Farhad Darya says that’s unacceptable. He believes education — not work — should be the priority for these children and that Afghans need to do more to address the needs of street kids.

"We’re sure that [it is] is not the people from outside who guarantee our future," Darya says. "[It] is these children who are left behind out there, so we must do something for our future."

Darya, who lives with his family in Virginia, started a program called "Kooche," or Street, to provide for Afghan street kids. He says he has opened bank accounts for 2,000 widows, who receive $50 a month provided they send at least one of their children to school.

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Kabul’s beggar children working the streets

Kabul’s beggar children working the streets

KABUL: – Shakir sits at the side of the road, his head buried in his hands, 10 broken eggs melding with the dust at his feet.

"I was selling eggs. I fell over. My eggs smashed," the five-year-old whimpers quietly. "I’ve lost 50 afghanis (one dollar), my mother will kill me."

It is a routine the child has been playing out all over Kabul for months and now some residents are wise to it.

"He does this everyday," smiles a resident, handing the boy a chocolate bar as he walks past.

Each day Shakir invests the equivalent of a dollar to buy eggs that he drops on a dirty footpath. He then sits miserably in front of them and tells his story in the hope of attracting donations.

His brother, who looks about two years older, is never far away, ready to take the collection, fend off suspicious enquirers and chase away other street children also looking for some pickings.

Shakir’s trick reflects the competitive world of child beggars in Kabul, a city clogged by a population of around four million people that exploded after the 2001 fall of the Taliban regime led exiles home and jobseekers to the capital.

According to surveys by the UN children’s organisation, UNICEF, there are 50,000 to 60,000 street children in Kabul, said the UN Afghanistan spokesman Aleem Siddique.

Aschiana, a non-governmental organisation that supports and educates children working on the streets, puts the number higher and says it has almost doubled in the past two years.

"In 2005 there were 37,000 children working on the streets," said programme manager Nazar Mohammad.

"But now, according to new surveys, there’s nearly 70,000 of them working," he says.

Most of them have lost one or both of their parents, often in the war that has long plagued this country, and are their families’ only breadwinner, according to Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

"A study carried out by AIHRC found a majority of 18,000 street children interviewed indicated that they have lost one or both of their parents," commissioner Nader Nadery says.

The children work alongside Kabul’s adult beggars, who include men who lost limbs in the war and women hidden beneath filthy burqas and holding still infants to soften passing hearts.

Some of the children rap on the windows of cars stopped at traffic jams, demanding the occupants buy chewing gum, Dari-English dictionaries, maps in Russian or old copies of US military magazines.

Others cling to vehicles to wipe their windows with filthy rags; pretty little girls just smile and ask for tips.

Mohammad Aman trades on Afghan superstition by waving about a black and acrid smoke made by from burning "espand," the seeds of a wild plant. The smoke is believed to drive away evil spirits.

"My father died fighting the Taliban," says the grubby boy, aged 11. "We’re six people at home," he adds, showing the number on coal-blackened fingers.

"Me and my brother have to work," says the child, dressed in rags and working on a busy road outside the upmarket shopping area of Shar-i-Nau. The boys make about four dollars a day — enough to buy food, he says.

Mohammad, from Aschiana, says the issue of street children has been neglected amid the many problems facing the destitute country.

"The government has not done much," he tells AFP at one of the group’s six centres where art classes reflect the war in which most Afghan children were raised, one painting showing a bombed-out and roofless classroom.

One of the government’s successes, however, is that it has increased by five-fold the number of school enrollments since the Taliban fell nearly six years ago, according to British-based charity Oxfam.

About six million children are in school, still only half of all school-age children in the country, the education ministry says.

The UN’s Siddique says tackling the growing number of street children in Kabul needs more than just "aid money".

Nearly 13 billion dollars has been spent since 2001, including on security with a Taliban insurgency unabating.

"We need to support parents who are currently not sending their children to school for financial or cultural reasons," he says.

Afghanistan has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, with about half of men and 20 percent of women able to read and write. Some poorer families want their children to work instead of go to school.

"This is not an issue solely related to money — there is a need for cultural change where parents value the importance of education for all children — both girls and boys," Siddique says.

In the meantime, little Shakir will continue with his broken eggs.

"I just fell over and my eggs smashed," he insists quietly.

Teaching Kabul’s street children

Teaching Kabul’s street children

 

The children learn how to read and
write at the Aschiana project

In his third daily diary posting from Afghanistan, Al Jazeera’s David Foster tells the story of two child beggars and the man with a big smile who helps Kabul’s street children realise their dreams.

Behind reinforced steel gates in central Kabul is the Aschiana project.

The city’s street children go there after they have finished begging or scavenging to learn how to read and write.

Realising dreams

Ten years ago at Aschiana, the man with a big smile took in a seven-year-old beggar boy and asked him what he wanted to be one day.

"I want to be a pilot," said the boy.

"That’s good," said the man. "Maybe you want to travel and meet people and earn a big salary?"

"No," said the boy. "I want to fly a plane and drop bombs. I want to kill the man who dropped bombs on my village and killed my father."

"Go to class," said the man. "And come back in two months. Tell me then what you want to be."

The beggar boy did as he was told and after a while stood in front of the man again.

"What do you want to be," asked the man?

"I want to be a teacher," said the boy.

The street children come to the centre
after they finish begging or scavenging

"No," said the man. "You must be a pilot if that is what you want to be. But don’t drop bombs. Just realise your dream."

The beggar boy went on to finish school at 17 –   rare in a country where so few ever go to school.

No one knows if he is a teacher or a pilot. But he has an education and he has a chance.

A new approach

One day, though, the man didn’t feel like smiling any more.

He had been jailed three times under the Taliban. He was tired and told a friend as they ate at a restaurant that he was quitting.

As they talked, the man with no smile wondered why they were getting special attention from a young waiter.

"Don’t you recognise me," he asked? "I was one of your students at Aschiana. Now I am finishing my studies, learning computers and earning money. I am not a beggar any more."

The man’s friend asked him if he still wanted to quit.

The project can only help less than one
in ten of Kabul’s street children

Mohamed Yousef has his big smile back.

The Aschiana project in Kabul helps less than one in ten of the city’s street children. But it does offer those there something they can’t find anywhere else.

When they finish class they may go back to begging to support their families, but they do so knowing that tomorrow will bring more knowledge and with it perhaps a way out.

Translated from Dari, Aschiana means nest. They describe it as "Afghanistan’s Children – A New Approach".

We saw the children learning, laughing, drawing, playing football. In the case of the older ones, they can train to be a plumber, electrician or carpenter.

The man with a big smile told me these stories just as we were leaving. Outside the big, metal gates was an old man, begging.

His life may end that way, but for the youngsters at Aschiana, life could be just beginning.

www.aschiana.com

AFGHANISTAN: Children work the streets to support families

AFGHANISTAN: Children work the streets to support families



Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Thousands of children work the streets of Kabul to sustain their families

KABUL, 16 January 2007 (IRIN) – Ahmad Wali, 9, is combing the rubbish dump for soda cans to sell as a way to support his 11-member family in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Thousands of children work the streets to help their households through the harsh winter.

“They [empty soda cans] are easily available everywhere and more profitable than other metals which we collect and then sell in the city,” Wali told IRIN, as he shivered with cold.

“The price of 1kg of these [aluminium] cans is equal to 7kg of other metals that we collect and sell. That is why many children are trying to find more soda cans and earn more money for their families,” said Wali, who is making up to US$3 a day.

“I have to work hard as my father lost his job and it has become very difficult for us to get by and pay the monthly rent for our house,” he explained.

There are no accurate figures on how many children work in Kabul but aid workers fear the number is rising. Some estimates put the number of youngsters working as labourers or beggars in Kabul at about 37,000 in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available.

“Unfortunately, the number of street children is increasing day by day in our country because of the widespread poverty and a lack of proper work opportunities for people,” Mohammad Yousef, director of ASCHIANA, a local NGO supporting working children and their families, said in Kabul.

Afghanistan is ranked 173rd out of 178 on the Human Development Index calculated by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which estimates that 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line of $2 a day.

A survey released by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in May 2006 revealed that 60 percent of families surveyed stated that almost half their children were involved in some kind of labour.

A report by the UK-based charity Oxfam in November 2006 warned that seven million children, almost half the total in the country, were missing out on education. Oxfam said about six million were stunted due to malnutrition.

“Educating Afghanistan’s children is crucial in improving their lives and in the rebuilding and development of the country. But poverty, crippling fees and huge distances to the nearest schools prevent parents from sending their children to school,” Grace Ommer, head of Oxfam GB in Afghanistan, said.

In an effort to help working children, ASCHIANA has opened seven vocational centres in Kabul and three in different provinces where more than 7,000 street children are learning about carpentry, tailoring, computers, music and theatre.

Almost 15,000 street children have attended ASCHIANA classes since it started operating in Kabul in 1995, and hundreds have found jobs so far, Yousef explained.

Wali is just one of the children benefiting from the classes. “During the afternoon I study English, Maths and other subjects at ASCHIANA to learn something and find a good job in the future,” the boy said.

Abdul Karim Hamid, head of labour law at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, said it had established 16 vocational training centres in different provinces. About 12,000 street children and unemployed youths are being trained in various trades ranging from carpentry, tailoring, carpet weaving to English language and computers. The programmes, which began in 2003, last six months to one year.

Officials of the MLSA said they were planning to enroll 150,000 unemployed and impoverished youth in training centres by 2010.

“We are trying to establish more well-equipped vocational training centres across the country but our major problem is a lack of funds,” Hamid said.

Aid workers say more funds are needed to tackle the problem and the Oxfam report called on international donors to channel funds through the Afghan Ministry of Education and requested the international community invest $563 million to rebuild 7,800 schools across the country.

Canadian medics treat Afghan street kids with checkups and candies

Canadian medics treat Afghan street kids with checkups and candies
 
Doug Schmidt, CanWest News Service
Published: Monday, January 15, 2007

KANDAHAR CITY, Afghanistan — The curtain outside the makeshift clinic parts and a police officer gruffly ushers Ali Mohammad in to meet the doctor.

Ali is filthy in his layers of tattered clothes, but he sports a huge grin. This beats his usual daily grind, sifting through Kandahar’s garbage for anything of remote value.

"I have a headache. I’m cold and have cracks in my feet," the 12-year-old tells the doctor.

"I have a little problem in my chest," Ali later tells a reporter as he cheerily clutches a scrawled list and heads over to a nearby table to collect his medicines under the gaze of rifle-toting Canadian soldiers.

Popping a soothing medicated lemon drop into his mouth, Ali then goes to fetch his younger and even grubbier-looking brother for his checkup. Perowz, 5, has more health issues and is handed a small stack of boxes of medication, several with warning labels in English: "Keep out of the reach of children."

From the appearance of their bare, leathery, black feet, some of the kids gathered here to see medical professionals for the first time appear to have never owned footwear.

Meet the recyclers of Kandahar City, a rag-tag collection of orphaned, displaced, illiterate or otherwise neglected children who survive in the streets.

In a dirt-poor country, they are among the dirtiest and the poorest.

It’s winter and the temperatures can get bitterly cold but none of these kids wears socks or boots, and a few don’t even have sandals.

Ali works seven days a week, from dawn to dusk. He’s paid up to 30 afghanis, or just over 70 cents, per day. With that, he could buy six loaves of bread. Two people can live on 30 afghanis a day, but it would be a diet restricted to bread and chai, the local tea, and not much extra for sugar.

"Before this, I don’t know what they did," said Haji Faizul Haq Mushkani, a local entrepreneur who decided a year ago to do something for Kandahar’s roaming street kids. "These are poor people’s kids, some have parents — others, their fathers died or left."

Working with local businesses, Faizul Haq employs more than 120 city children to hit the streets and collect discarded plastic, tin and other items then sold to recyclers.

On this day, he’s stuffed almost two dozen children into a pickup truck and brought them to the downtown police/fire station where three doctors and a dentist hired by Canada’s Kandahar-based provincial reconstruction team will give them a checkup. The reconstruction team regularly hosts medical outreach clinics, but this one is special, targeting street kids, every one of whom, at least in this group, appears to suffer from one or more of a myriad of gastro-intestinal, respiratory and skin diseases.

"This is not by any means a cure for the problem here, but at least it gives them temporary relief for their ailments," said Dr. Mark Dacambra, medical officer at the reconstruction team’s home base at Camp Nathan Smith.

"And a certain percentage of things we do fix — for example, throat and ear infections."

This day’s clinic will cost Canadians about $3,200. Not included in that are the candies and small gifts handed out by the soldiers providing security, goodies raided from Christmas care packages from their families back home.

Ali and Perowz are luckier than most here. Living with other refugees and nomads in the outskirts of the sprawling city, they and their four siblings have both parents.

Yes, it’s sometimes cold in the streets, said Ali, "but it’s cold at home, too, because we live in tents."

Kids forced to work may be an abhorrent concept to most in the Western world, but in today’s Afghanistan it means survival.

"As much as we bemoan child labour, that doesn’t apply here — they either collect recyclables or starve," says Capt. Neil Stocker, a CIMIC (Civil Military Co-operation) officer with the PRT.

"If I didn’t give them work, they’d be stealing in the street or becoming beggars, bad people," said Faizul Haq.

At the end of the clinic, the kids jump back onto the pickup and the soldiers back into their armoured vehicles to return to their respective temporary homes.

Afghan street children finding way out of poverty through job training programs

Afghan street children finding way out of poverty through job training programs
The Associated Press
Published: December 23, 2006

KABUL, Afghanistan: Ahmed Fawad pushed his handcart through Kabul’s chaotic market center, past honking cars and braying donkeys, looking for a profitable spot to sell his pile of yellow apples.

But the corner traffic cop did not like the 14-year-old fruit seller taking up a lane of his traffic and chased him away. "Go away," the policeman shouted. "This is not the place to be selling apples."

Youngsters have to grow up fast in Afghanistan — particularly the 60,000 children who eke out livelihoods on the street. They sell produce or newspapers, collect empty soda cans, shine shoes or hail passengers for taxi drivers as a way to help their families survive.

Fawad’s mornings are spent selling apples or red pomegranates, which can net him up to $8 (€6.22) a day.

His afternoons are dedicated to his future.

That’s when the teenager studies carpentry at a vocational training center sponsored by the Social Affairs Ministry. Fawad is one of 37,000 young Afghans taking part in some kind of job education across the country, said Mohammad Ghous Bashiri, a deputy minister.

The classes are held in provincial community centers, often with the help of aid groups. They are one way the Afghan government is trying to help street children, many of whom were orphaned by the country’s wars in the 1990s.

Many street kids do not go to regular schools, because they cannot afford to buy supplies or because they must dedicate every hour of the day to making money.

A recent survey by UNICEF, Save The Children and the Ministry of Social Affairs found some 8,000 children age 14 and younger work on the streets of Kabul, said Wahidullah Barikzai, a ministry official. There are not any statistics to show whether that is up or down from previous years, he said.

Poverty runs so wide and deep in Afghanistan that families must struggle to earn money. Years of fighting, first by Afghan groups against occupying Soviet troops and then among the factions themselves, killed thousands of men, leaving many households without a breadwinner and untold numbers of women and children to fend for themselves.

Some working children say they also cannot take time to go to the training centers. "My father is dead," Ahmed Shafiq, 13, said while selling plastic bags on a crowded street. "And I have my mother and three sisters I have to support."

Fawad’s fruit-selling job provides much of his family’s income and pays for the family’s $40 monthly rent. His father hasn’t been able to find work since he was fired from the Education Ministry last year, while his mother and 16-year-old sister make dresses they sell to neighbors. Fawad also supports his 9-year-old brother.

Fawad said he was excited when he heard about the carpentry course offered by a foreign aid group. He is tired of selling produce and wants the chance to do something different.

"I want to be a carpenter and participate in the reconstruction of my country," said the teen, who will soon earn a certificate allowing him to look for work in carpentry. "I will have a good income when I make windows and doors."

The Afghan aid organization Aschiana, which means "nest" in the Afghan language of Dari, offers street kids classes in subjects like carpentry, computers, music and theater.

Nearly 10,000 have attended the group’s classes in three provinces, and hundreds have found jobs so far, said Mohammad Yasouf, the Aschiana director.

"We try to help those children who have nobody in their families to support the family to learn one of the skills, then we will provide the opportunity for them to find a job," he said. "We don’t want them to be on the streets anymore."

Shoaib Ahmedi, a 12-year-old who washes cars and hails cabs for passengers to buy food for his family, comes to Aschiana’s music classes with dirty hands and dirty clothes. But his face lights up as he practices the harmonia, a small keyboard instrument that sounds like an accordion.

"I have to work on the street and support my family. I have no any other choice," he said between songs. "I feel very happy when I play the harmonia by myself."

AFGHANISTAN: DAILY SURVIVAL ROBS STREET CHILDREN OF EDUCATION

AFGHANISTAN: DAILY SURVIVAL ROBS STREET CHILDREN OF EDUCATION
Ron Synovitz 12/17/06

Children trying to earn a meager wage — some as young as 5 years old — are a common sight on the streets of Kabul. Many are orphans with no relatives to look after them, but a surprising number have been sent out on the streets by impoverished parents who can’t support their families.

From a tattered blanket near a crowded Kabul market, a young child sells trinkets for a pittance — one of many children on the streets of the Afghan capital trying to eke out a living.

In another quarter of Kabul, 6-year-old Sami spends his days collecting slivers of wood from rubbish heaps to burn for heat. Like many of Afghanistan’s street children, Sami is not an orphan. But his father is unable to work. So instead of going to school to learn how to read and write, Sami helps support his family.

"I’m collecting these small chips of wood so that we can burn them," Sami tells RFE/RL. "[My parents] send me out to do this. My father says that when I’m finished collecting these things — when I grow bigger — then I should go to school."

Working To Get By

The United Nations says that more than 60,000 school-aged children now work on the streets of Kabul to survive. Some beg. Others polish and mend shoes. Still others sell plastic bottles of water, chewing gum, or newspapers.

Nassrullah is a 7-year-old boy who burns small bits of coal in a tin can at a Kabul park in the belief that the smoke will protect people from curses and bring them good luck. In return, some people give Nassrullah a small amount of money. But others simply turn away, annoyed at the smell of the smoke.

"I make 100 to 150 afghanis (around $2-$3) in a day," Nassrullah says. "Half of that I give to my father. The rest I give to my mother. My father is unable to work, so I am obliged to do this. I also buy bread for them. I leave home every day at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning to do this."

The Afghan Constitution says education through the ninth grade is compulsory. But in November, the Oxfam International charity reported that some 7 million Afghan children — more than half of the country’s young people — do not go to school.

Few Resources

In its report, titled "Free, Quality Education For Every Afghan Child," Oxfam noted a fivefold increase in school enrollments across Afghanistan since 2001 — with about 5 million children now getting an education. But Oxfam warns that "poverty, crippling fees and huge distances to the nearest schools" prevent many parents from sending their children to get an education.

Oxfam is urging donor countries to invest more than $700 million to rebuild schools and supply textbooks during the next five years. It says the education of Afghan children is crucial in improving their lives and rebuilding the country.

The Afghanistan Evaluation and Research Unit (AERU), an independent research group, concludes that most Afghan parents want an education for both their sons and daughters. But it says Afghan families often are constrained by poverty. And in provincial regions, fears of negative social pressures often prevent them from sending young girls to school. Instead, children often are sent on the streets to help the family survive.

Official Response

When asked about the plight of street children in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai says education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and creating a more prosperous future.

Karzai says the Afghan government — with the help of international donors — has begun some programs to get orphaned children off the streets and into school.

But Abdul Wassay, an official in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Work and Social Affairs, tells RFE/RL that more aid is needed.

"There are a number of children in our society who have no relatives whatsoever. They are forced to do hard work," Wassay says. "For these children, our ministry is trying to put an end to such difficulties. Other organizations also should help us. We have started lots of programs for such children. The problem is our shortage of financial means."

…And Nonprofit Aid

One internationally known Afghan nongovernmental organization that is trying to help is Aschiana, which means "nest" in Dari. Aschiana provides income-generating training and basic educational skills to poor boys and girls who work on the streets. Classes include reading and mathematics, as well as courses in art, music, dance, computing, and sports. Funding comes from the European Community, the World Bank, and foreign charities.

Kabul resident Abdul Karim says he could not afford to pay for the education of his son, Nasir Ahmad, until he learned about Aschiana.

"I was not even able to pay for the stationery or for the bus fare to send my son to a normal school," Abdul Karim says. "That is why I sent him to Aschiana to learn and get help."

Nasir Ahmad explains that he was working to help feed his family when one of Aschiana’s teachers met him and offered him help.

"I was working on streets until a teacher named Huma came to me and took me to Aschiana," Nasir Ahmad says. "I was illiterate. I learned reading and writing there. And then I became interested in painting — so I joined the painting class there."

Nasir Ahmad still works to help feed his family. But now he does so in the afternoon — after finishing morning classes offered by Aschiana and having a midday lunch there. With the skills he has learned, he says he now has more hope for his future.

In the past 12 years, Aschiana has expanded its activities outside of Kabul — opening centers recently in Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and Parwan Province. It also has outreach camps for returning refugees where 3,000 kids benefit from education, nutrition, and health-care programs.

Aschiana Executive Director Mohammad Yousef says education for street children begins with primary education — teaching them to read and write. He says older children receive vocational training after they become literate. He says several hundred street children are integrated into normal schools each month through Aschiana’s programs.

But for every child the Afghan nongovernmental organization has helped, there are five more children still on the streets of Kabul struggling to survive — and missing out on the education that the Afghan Constitution says they have a right to obtain.

(RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Khan Mohammad Seend contributed to this report from Kabul.)

Posted December 17, 2006 © Eurasianet
http://www.eurasianet.org

Afghanistan: Daily Survival Robs Street Children Of Education

Afghanistan: Daily Survival Robs Street Children Of Education

By Ron Synovitz

Afghanistan -- A boy sells baloons in Kabul, 15Nov2006
A boy sells balloons in Kabul
(epa)
KABUL/PRAGUE, December 8, 2006 (RFE/RL) — Children trying to earn a meager wage — some as young as 5 years old — are a common sight on the streets of Kabul. Many are orphans with no relatives to look after them, but a surprising number have been sent out on the streets by impoverished parents who can’t support their families.

From a tattered blanket near a crowded Kabul market, a young child sells trinkets for a pittance — one of many children on the streets of the Afghan capital trying to eke out a living.
 
In another quarter of Kabul, 6-year-old Sami spends his days collecting slivers of wood from rubbish heaps to burn for heat. Like many of Afghanistan’s street children, Sami is not an orphan. But his father is unable to work. So instead of going to school to learn how to read and write, Sami helps support his family.
 
"I’m collecting these small chips of wood so that we can burn them," Sami tells RFE/RL. "[My parents] send me out to do this. My father says that when I’m finished collecting these things — when I grow bigger — then I should go to school."
 
Working To Get By
 
The United Nations says that more than 60,000 school-aged children now work on the streets of Kabul to survive. Some beg. Others polish and mend shoes. Still others sell plastic bottles of water, chewing gum, or newspapers.
 
Nassrullah is a 7-year-old boy who burns small bits of coal in a tin can at a Kabul park in the belief that the smoke will protect people from curses and bring them good luck. In return, some people give Nassrullah a small amount of money. But others simply turn away, annoyed at the smell of the smoke.
 
"I make 100 to 150 afghanis (around $2-$3) in a day," Nassrullah says. "Half of that I give to my father. The rest I give to my mother. My father is unable to work, so I am obliged to do this. I also buy bread for them. I leave home every day at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning to do this."
 
The Afghan Constitution says education through the ninth grade is compulsory. But in November, the Oxfam International charity reported that some 7 million Afghan children — more than half of the country’s young people — do not go to school.
 
Few Resources
 
In its report, titled "Free, Quality Education For Every Afghan Child," Oxfam noted a fivefold increase in school enrollments across Afghanistan since 2001 — with about 5 million children now getting an education. But Oxfam warns that "poverty, crippling fees and huge distances to the nearest schools" prevent many parents from sending their children to get an education.
 
Oxfam is urging donor countries to invest more than $700 million to rebuild schools and supply textbooks during the next five years. It says the education of Afghan children is crucial in improving their lives and rebuilding the country.
 
The Afghanistan Evaluation and Research Unit (AERU), an independent research group, concludes that most Afghan parents want an education for both their sons and daughters. But it says Afghan families often are constrained by poverty. And in provincial regions, fears of negative social pressures often prevent them from sending young girls to school. Instead, children often are sent on the streets to help the family survive.
 
Official Response
 
When asked about the plight of street children in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai says education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and creating a more prosperous future.
 
Karzai says the Afghan government — with the help of international donors — has begun some programs to get orphaned children off the streets and into school.
 
But Abdul Wassay, an official in Afghanistan’s Ministry of Work and Social Affairs, tells RFE/RL that more aid is needed.
 
"There are a number of children in our society who have no relatives whatsoever. They are forced to do hard work," Wassay says. "For these children, our ministry is trying to put an end to such difficulties. Other organizations also should help us. We have started lots of programs for such children. The problem is our shortage of financial means."
 
…And Nonprofit Aid
 
One internationally known Afghan nongovernmental organization that is trying to help is Aschiana, which means "nest" in Dari. Aschiana provides income-generating training and basic educational skills to poor boys and girls who work on the streets. Classes include reading and mathematics, as well as courses in art, music, dance, computing, and sports. Funding comes from the European Community, the World Bank, and foreign charities.
 
Kabul resident Abdul Karim says he could not afford to pay for the education of his son, Nasir Ahmad, until he learned about Aschiana.
 
"I was not even able to pay for the stationery or for the bus fare to send my son to a normal school," Abdul Karim says. "That is why I sent him to Aschiana to learn and get help."
 
Nasir Ahmad explains that he was working to help feed his family when one of Aschiana’s teachers met him and offered him help.
 
"I was working on streets until a teacher named Huma came to me and took me to Aschiana," Nasir Ahmad says. "I was illiterate. I learned reading and writing there. And then I became interested in painting — so I joined the painting class there."
 
Nasir Ahmad still works to help feed his family. But now he does so in the afternoon — after finishing morning classes offered by Aschiana and having a midday lunch there. With the skills he has learned, he says he now has more hope for his future.
 
In the past 12 years, Aschiana has expanded its activities outside of Kabul — opening centers recently in Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and Parwan Province. It also has outreach camps for returning refugees where 3,000 kids benefit from education, nutrition, and health-care programs.
 
Aschiana Executive Director Mohammad Yousef says education for street children begins with primary education — teaching them to read and write. He says older children receive vocational training after they become literate. He says several hundred street children are integrated into normal schools each month through Aschiana’s programs.
 
But for every child the Afghan nongovernmental organization has helped, there are five more children still on the streets of Kabul struggling to survive — and missing out on the education that the Afghan Constitution says they have a right to obtain.
 
(RFE/RL’s Radio Free Afghanistan correspondent Khan Mohammad Seend contributed to this report from Kabul.)