Afghanistan: Child Beggars Face Bleak Future

The Afghan authorities are struggling to deal with the capital's massed ranks of child beggars.

Afghanistan: Child Beggars Face Bleak Future

The Afghan authorities are struggling to deal with the capital's massed ranks of child beggars.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005

Ten-year-old Gulab Shah begs for a living outside the Herat hotel in the Shaar-e-Naw, or New Town, area of Kabul.

After his father was killed in a work-related accident in Iran, Gulab together with his sister and mother were left with no financial support. They were reduced to living in a garage in Taimany, north of the capital.

"My mother and I now beg. My sister, who is younger, stays at home. I'm ashamed of what I do, but how else can I get money? We are in need," said Gulab.

He is one of thousands of destitute children wandering the streets of Kabul in search of a few pennies to buy a loaf of bread. Step out of any hotel or restaurant here and a crowd of children immediately appear begging or offering to shine shoes.

Years of conflict have robbed these kids of everything. Many are orphans or the only surviving males in their families,old enough to earn some money.

Mir Wais, 13, works as a porter in a fruit and vegetable market. His prized possession is a handcart he has decorated with small paper flowers. His father was killed six years ago after being hit by shrapnel during a rocket attack on the city.

For the past few years, Wais's mother has supported him and his two sisters through her tailoring business. He is proud that now he can help his mother feed the family. He shifts fruit and vegetables around the market on his precious cart for 35,000 to 40,000 Afghanis a day, or 8 US dollars.

"My best friend is my handcart which can carry even eight boxes of fruit. That's a 120 kilos," he says proudly. "I'd like to go to school and I want to learn the alphabet. But I am thinking, if I start going to school, who is going to work?"

It's not only young boys who are begging or working long and arduous hours to help feed their families. In Taimany, ten-year-old Fatema works all day at a handloom weaving rug carpets. "My father has promised to send me to school in the spring," she said. "But now I am busy all day weaving carpets and after eating dinner I am so tired I can't stay awake and soon fall asleep."

During the five years of Taleban rule, girls were forbidden from going to school. The new administration is to give many of them a chance of an education, with around 30,000 to attend classes in Kabul this year alone.

Education minister Rasoul Amin says work is under way to prepare the schools - many of which were badly damaged during the years of conflict - for the new pupils. In addition, the authorities are working on new curricula and schoolbooks which under the Taleban dealt almost entirely with religious themes. "The new educational year is approaching and we hope and expect a happy start," said the minister.

The police, meanwhile, are faced with the problem of very large numbers of young children, some no more than three-years-old, being sent out to beg by manipulative adults. The police believe many of these infants have been kidnapped. Others are simply orphans with no one else to care for them. The children are placed by the side of the road even in the freezing winter where they attract attention, sympathy and hopefully money.

Kabul police officer Mohammad Nasir says they try to arrest those responsible for exploiting the children, whom they try to place in care homes. "Lack of facilities and personnel means we haven't been able to overcome this problem yet," he complained.

There is only one orphanage - looking after some 300 kids - in the city.

"We know there are thousands of poor children with no carers," said its director Said Daud. "I wish we could do something for them - but we're fully stretched as it is."

Husain Khail is a Kabul-based IWPR contributor

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