More than a third (38.4%) of children surveyed in Afghanistan have been pushed into work to help their families cope with soaring levels of poverty and hunger, two years since the Taliban regained control, Save the Children said.[i]
Children are being forced into dangerous situations to support themselves and their families, with staff from the child rights organisation reporting that one girl was crushed to death by a truck as she was smuggling goods over a border crossing.
Three quarters of children (76.1%) surveyed said they are eating less than they were a year ago as the country’s worst drought in 30 years has caused crops to fail, livestock to die and put food and water further out of reach for children and their families. The drought has impacted 58% of the households interviewed by Save the Children.
This new initial analysis by Save the Children, based on a survey of households in six provinces, shows the stark needs of people in the country experiencing a deadly mix of poverty, climate change, and hunger. With millions deprived of food aid due to cuts in international funding, this should be a wake-up call to the international community to stop looking away.
Sajida,* 31, and her family in northern Afghanistan have been badly hit by the drought and economic crisis. Sajida wishes she could feed her children potatoes, fruit and meat, but they can only afford rice. Two of her children, 8-month old twins Nahida* and Nadira,* have been diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition (SAM) and are receiving treatment at a mobile health clinic run by Save the Children.
Sajida said: “We don’t have water in our village. We go to another village and use donkeys to bring water back here. There are long queues [of people] waiting for water. All the farmers pray for rain, but this year they are hopeless. They think the drought will destroy normal life here.”
She added: “My children come and say to me: “Mum, we don’t want to eat boiled rice. Give us potato fries.”
But with teary eyes, I say: “I wish we had potatoes in the kitchen, but the only food I can cook is boiled rice.”
“They are very young, and they don’t know what it means to be poor and to not have money to buy potatoes. I feel bad seeing the condition of my children. I can’t give them a good life, not even a portion of good food.”
Afghanistan is one of the world’s starkest illustrations of the deadly toll the climate crisis is having on families who depend on agriculture in order to survive. The country is now facing its third consecutive year of drought, which is affecting more than half the population.
Levels of hunger are higher in northern Afghanistan, where families rely heavily on farming to survive. Here, the drought has led to severe hunger in one in three households - 34.3% - in Sar-e-Pul province and one in five households - 20.7% - in Jawzjan, home to Sajida and her family.[ii] For comparison, about 6% of households in Nangarhar and Kabul provinces reported severe hunger respectively.
Hunger not only has a serious impact on children’s physical health but also on mental health, creating anxiety and depression.[iii] Women and girls are at the sharp end, with more than twice as many female-headed households living with severe hunger as male-headed households[iv] and 17% more girls than boys are eating less than they were last year.[v]
All this has led to child labour, with more than a third (38.4% ) of children surveyed working to support their family, and 12.5% of households reporting having their children migrating for work, opening up an unprecedented child protection crisis, according to the child rights organisation.
Save the Children does not have comparable data from the same provinces last year. However recent data from the International Labour Organisation found one in 10 children across Afghanistan are engaged in child labour.[vi]
Arshad Malik, Country Director for Save the Children in Afghanistan, said:
“Two years since the Taliban regained control in Afghanistan, conditions for children and their families are abysmal. What we are seeing is a perfect storm of the climate crisis, poverty and the legacy of conflict inflicting hunger, malnutrition and misery on people who have done nothing to contribute to any of these conditions.
“The fact that children are being pushed into unsafe practices such as labour and migration should send shockwaves around the world. We received a recent report where a small girl was crushed to death while she hid under a moving truck on the Torkham border, as she was forced to smuggle goods.
“We hope that the international community, which has significantly cut funding to critical food aid across Afghanistan, will rethink this isolationist approach, remember the millions of innocent children whose lives are in jeopardy, and stop punishing them for decisions they have had nothing to do with.”
Save the Children is calling for an urgent injection of humanitarian aid as well as long-term development assistance from the international community for the growing needs of people in Afghanistan. The aid group is also urging donor governments not to freeze or suspend ongoing and existing funding towards humanitarian work in Afghanistan, as this will have a devastating effect on the civilian population, particularly women and girls. Children’s rights, especially girl’s right to education, must be prioritised by all stakeholders.
Save the Children’s initial analysis surveyed 1207 adults and 1205 children in Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kabul, Nangarhar, and Sar-e-Pul provinces, Afghanistan, between 8 July and 2 August 2023.
Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. It has programs in nine provinces and works with partners in an additional six provinces. Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, Save the Children has been scaling up its response to support the increasing number of children in need in areas that were previously inaccessible. Save the Children delivers health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security and livelihood support. Since September 2021, Save the Children has reached more than 4 million people, including 2.1 million children.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity.
[i] Save the Children’s initial analysis surveyed 1207 adults and 1205 children in Balkh, Faryab, Jawzjan, Kabul, Nangarhar, and Sar-e-Pul provinces, Afghanistan, between 8 July and 2 August 2023.
[ii] The classification of severe hunger is being hungry more than 10 times over the past 30 days.
[iii] The initial analysis shows 28.9% of children who show daily signs of depression have reduced their food intake from last year, compared to signs in 12.2% whose food intake has not reduced. It also shows 32.3% of children who show daily signs of anxiety have reduced their food intake from last year compared to signs in 14.4% whose food intake has not reduced.
[iv] The initial analysis showed 26.% of female-headed households living with severe hunger compared to 10% of male-headed households. The classification of severe hunger is being hungry more than 10 times over the past 30 days.
[v] The initial analysis showed 82.1% of girls have reduced their meal intake from last year, compared to 70.2% of boys.
[vi] wcms_834525.pdf (ilo.org).