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12 Oct, 2010 06:11

Afghan kids deprived of childhood while helping their families survive

Since the Afghan War began nearly a decade ago, an entire generation of children have had to grow up on the streets and struggle to feed their families. It leaves little time for a normal childhood, let alone school.

For a few hours each Friday, street kids in Kabul can remember they are still just children.

To them, kite-flying is more than just a pastime – it is a sport of skill, where all who master it are equal.

And for a few brief moments they forget that they live in abject poverty.

“My name is Wasudine. I’m the father of the house. I will never forget one day there was no work. I came home and there was no food, and my brothers and sisters and my mother – they went to sleep hungry,” said one of the boys.

At only 13 years old he is the man of the house. His duties start early – at six in the morning.

Wasudine lives in a typical, poor, Kabul neighbourhood among children with dirty feet and growling stomachs.

Every day, Wasudine takes his bucket and joins tens of thousands of children heading out onto the country’s streets to make their meager living washing cars. But despite their stolen childhoods, they are the lucky ones.

“A year ago my dad was martyred. He was working with the police and died during a rocket explosion,” explained Wasudine, as he washed vehicles. “This is very, very hard work. I make about a dollar a day. Sometimes other boys fight with me – they say they want to wash this car.”

Zabi Zikrala is 12 years old. He manages to bring a few dollars more into the home. But it is barely enough to feed his mother and seven sisters.

“Every day I wake up very early. My house is a long way from here. On a good day I can earn about eight dollars – but on some days there’s no work. Yesterday there was no work,” said Zabi.

For some children it is easier just to go on the streets and beg. The streets are their classroom, their playground and their university of life.

Most parents do not want their children to go to school because they are the only breadwinners in their families. And spending just one hour in class could mean no food on the table that night.

“Fifty-seven per cent of the population of Afghanistan is below 25 years old. The majority of them were born during the war, growing during the war, without skills, without education,” said Mohammed Yousef, director of Aschiana child support charity.

For every US$ 100 million of foreign money spent on the military, only $7 million goes towards social projects – and even less to the children.

“The international community and the state of Afghanistan have to pay and have to focus more on the children,” said the co-ordinator of the Child Rights Program, Mohammed Nussrat.

Six million children in Afghanistan are at risk of sexual abuse, violence and harsh child labor.

And with little being done to help them, Afghanistan’s younger generations see little chance of their lives ever getting off the ground.