Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Jobless Afghans Slip Into Crime

Country's rising unemployment is proving hard to challenge.
By Mina Habib
  • There are few prospects for young Afghans, even those with an education. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
    There are few prospects for young Afghans, even those with an education. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Mohammad Naeem, 26, is in a Kabul jail awaiting trial on charges of stealing a mobile phone. Arrested on March 2, 2018 in the Karta-e-Chahr area of Kabul city, he says he will be pleading guilty to the crime.

Naeem told IWPR that he had felt under huge pressure since losing his job in a bakery three months ago.

“I made lots of applications to government departments and private institutions to find a job, but I couldn’t. My fiancée kept on asking me to buy her a mobile phone, but I couldn’t say yes as I couldn’t afford it,” Naeem said. “So I committed this crime and stole someone’s mobile phone.”

Rising unemployment in Afghanistan is being cited as a major factor in the country’s rate of petty crime.

According to the ministry of labour, social affairs, martyrs and the disabled (MoLSAMD), 8.1 million Afghans are out of work. This means that - according to a March 2018 survey by the ministry of economy - 23 per cent of work-age Afghans are unemployed. A further 39 per cent of all citizens live below the poverty line.

In a series of interviews carried out in Kabul’s central detention centre, unemployment was the main reason given for criminal activity.

Mohammad Wali (not his real name) said he had fallen into drug addiction as a labour migrant in Iran, a common fate for young men who travel to the neighbouring country to seek work.

The 32-year-old, originally from Wardak province, said, “I couldn’t find a job in Afghanistan, so I went to Iran where I started working in a factory. I also began using drugs and became addicted. When I returned to Afghanistan, there were people who wanted me to transfer narcotics from one place to another in exchange for giving me some drugs and so I did that until I was arrested by police on March 8, 2018 in the Pul-e-Sokhta area of Kabul.”

Now awaiting trial, Wali said that he regretted his actions and said he hoped the Afghan government would try to create more jobs so that other young men would not suffer the same fate.

Mohammad Salem Almas, chief of criminal investigation for Kabul police, confirmed that unemployment was cited as a major factor in youth crime.

“Most of those arrested by the police say that they were unemployed and therefore had no choice but to commit the crimes,” Almas said.

MoLSAMD spokesman Abdul Fateh Ashrat Ahmadzai said that not enough new jobs were being created to satisfy the demands of the 400,000 young people who joined the job market each year.

He said that without serious planning from MoLSAMD the unemployment rate would continue to rise, and that his department’s ultimate target was to reduce unemployment from 8.5 to 1.9 million.

One problem is that private sector investment in Afghanistan has simply not kept pace with the huge need for jobs.

Sayam Pesarlai, spokesman for the chamber of commerce and industries, said that one of the main causes for rising unemployment was the lack of security, which had not only discouraged entrepreneurs from investing in the country but also encouraged investors to move their assets abroad.

Pesarlai added that a lack of state support for privately owned companies also exacerbated the situation.

Economic expert Saihoon said that despite its rich natural resources, Afghanistan lacked any coherent job-creation strategy.

“Afghanistan’s economic system is one of the most ineffective in the world in terms of entrepreneurship and creating job opportunities,” he said. “Afghanistan has vast agricultural lands as well as untapped mineral resources that could be used for creating jobs but unfortunately there is no rational strategy to save young people from unemployment.”

He said that infrastructure projects such as power and water provision could be a very effective way of job creation, although he claimed the government had made little effort in this area.

Unemployment could have serious social effects, he warned.

“If government fails to provide jobs to the young people it will have bad consequences, and it’s likely that criminals would take advantage of unemployed youths which would leading to a rise in crime.”

Even young people with university degrees say they find it difficult to find work.

Benafsha Karimi, an economic graduate from Kabul university, said she had applied repeatedly for government jobs, but without success.

 “It’s been two years since I graduated from the economics faculty of Kabul state, university but when I approach a government department to find a job, they tell me there’s no work for me. I have frequently waited at the entrance to the MoLSAMD offices to apply for a newly-announced post, but this dream hasn’t come true yet,” Karimi said.

At the same time, official data from Afghanistan’s administrative reform and civil services commission shows that 15,000 government posts remain vacant.

Infrastructure projects are another big employer in Afghanistan, but the country has in the past been forced to import skilled workers for the construction sector. More skilled in modern building techniques, Pakistani and Iranian labourers were sometimes preferred over Afghan citizens.

MoLSAMD spokesman Ahmadzai said that the number of foreign workers in the country had decreased since 2014 as Afghan workers had learned new and more specialised skills.

He said that compared to 100,000 foreign workers in 2014, there are now few than 10,000.

While all look to the government to take action to improve the situation, officials caution that more time is needed for current project to bear fruit.

Dawa Khan Menapal, deputy presidential spokesman, said, “The Afghan government is making its best efforts to open state-run factories and to build new plants so that many job opportunities can be created for young people.”

He added that the country was currently dependent on imports, and that it would take many years to become an exporter of goods.

But he added stressed that the government was committed to creating job opportunities for young people though major economic and infrastructure projects.

 “The implementation of the TAPI [pipeline] project, which will take gas from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan, will create job opportunities for many youths,” he said. “In addition, the construction of hydroelectric dams - which is part of the Afghan government’s programme - will also create jobs for young people, but these projects need time till they can be of public use. For example, the construction of a hydroelectric dam may take six years until it’s complete.

“Taking this into consideration, the country’s unemployment problem can’t be solved quickly.”

This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.

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