KABUL: Afghanistan is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as five, from hazardous jobs that are prohibited by its own laws, a HRW report published Thursday said.
The 31-page report titled “They Bear All the Pain: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers undertake dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry, as bonded labour in brick kilns, and as metal workers.
These jobs expose them to high risks of illness, injury and death, HRW said in a statement, and also compel many to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labour attend school, the report found.
“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch.
“The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”
In 2014, the government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children but has “failed to enforce its labour laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labour conditions,” the report said.
It cited numerous case studies including a 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul who told HRW: “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine.”
Afghan labour law allows children between the ages of 15-17 to work if the work is not harmful to them, represents a form of skill training, and doesn’t exceed 35 hours a week, according to Ahmad Shuja, HRW’s representative in Kabul.
But “extreme poverty” often drives child labour in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world with rampant “landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment rate (nearly 40 percent in 2016) and continuing armed conflict in much of the country.”
HRW recommended a number of steps including increasing the number of labour inspectors and prioritising the monitoring of hazardous workplaces.