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Project case: Afghan working children: getting worse as conflict continues

Conflict and consequences

Afghanistan has been reported as the worst place in the world for children. Three decades of war, civil unrest and displacement have intensified poverty. Many families are forced to send their children into the streets to work. Others have placed their children in institutions, forced their daughters into early marriage or sold them. A growing number of young people are joining armed groups in search of income.

Under the current conflict situation, being in the street, begging or working, could be deadly for anyone, especially children. For example, in September 2012 a group of eight street working children were killed by a teenage suicide-bomber. The children were selling their goods too close to the compound of the International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF), which was targeted.

Project targets

The project ‘Child Labour in Afghanistan’ is an advocacy project that aims at increasing awareness and respect for child rights. Its objective is to draw wide attention from the public, including parents, institutions and policy-makers, to induce a national debate on child rights violations and on the critical situation of the working children exposed to exploitation.

Part of the strategy is:

  • To create of  network of committed agencies that effectively coordinates action-orientated initiatives for child protection and children’s rights over a longer term.
  • To create documentary and host a conference to sensitise and commit civil society and governmental parties to prioritise children’s education and protection, promote school enrolment and therefore reduce the exposure of children to child labour, exploitation and trafficking.

Project activities

The Child Rights Advocacy Forum (CRAF)

This advocacy network was established in July 2012 consisting of five organisations that work on children’s rights. Save the Children, Children in Crisis, Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium (HRRAC), Health Net and War Child participate in the network. CRAF identified advocacy themes and guided the full documentary process including the general content and script.

Documentary on child labour

In the current Afghan context, the voices of children and youth are totally ignored. To give these children a voice, War Child, produced a documentary. This first film tells the story of working children. It shows the negative impact of child labour on children, their concerns and their aspirations. The children in the film actively participated in the filmmaking process.

Group discussions with children and youth

All parents of participating children and youth that could be reached were contacted and informed on the film process. They provided consent for their children’s participation. Then the process started. Three groups of children were consulted in six sessions:

  • street working children (boys and girls);
  • children in detention (also street children);
  • hearing-impaired children, some of them also working, participating in the child-conference.

Child labour conference and debate: 'Afghan Working Children: Enforcing Laws, Ensuring Children’s Rights'

A conference to launch the documentary together with a debate on child labour was organised with child-rights panellists, a deputy of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MOLSAMD) and over 20 child-rights agencies. The attending panellists were from UNICEF, International Labour Organization (ILO), Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Aschiana and CRAF/War Child.

Child Labour in Afghanistan*

Main sectors in which children work

  • estimated 1.9 million working children

  • 1.4 million vulnerable children at extreme risk

  • 4.5 million children out of school

  • an estimated 28% of refugee children are working

Afghanistan has ratified ILO conventions 182,138,105

  • petty-trade in the streets
  • carriers
  • mining (mainly coal)
  • brick factories
  • carpet weaving
  • black smiths
  • restaurants
  • construction
  • carpentry
  • agriculture (including poppy harvesting).

* Figures provided by MOLSAMD


The Child Rights Advocacy Forum (CRAF)

Currently CRAF has become a solid network of ten agencies, five more than planned. Besides the documentary, they also started producing a report on grave child rights violations for the United Nation’s General Assembly and are creating a Child Act to provide a legislative framework for the better implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Group discussions with children and youth

The children and youth involved showed great excitement to participate in the film and the subsequent debate, actively posing questions to the Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled. The experience of having their voices heard was empowering, and an inspiring example to their peers. The youth group from the detention centre pressed their peers not to become involved in illegal activities. The main findings from the group discussions were reflected in the film and later at the child conference. Above all, the common dream of the participating children and young people to “become someone successful,” and their wishes to go to school and stop working were expressed and heard.


  • winter cold during the day and night
  • long working hours
  • doing domestic work as well (for girls)
  • traffic accidents
  • loss of their goods (and punishment)
  • health problems
  • sexual harassment of girls
  • fear of kidnapping
  • goods being stolen by others
  • attacks by wild animals
  • exposure to mines(rural working children)
  • bomb explosions (urban working children)
  • to be breadwinners for the family (although they feel no other choice but to work)    

Documentary on child labour

  • The documentary was produced as planned, including footage of the four main characters, 2 boys and 2 girls from rural and urban environment, in their daily lives and with their families.
  • 10 interviews with the general public were done to get opinions on the film: 3 male adults, 3 female adults, 2 male children and 2 female children were interviewed.
  • The documentary was widely broadcasted and distributed on TV and DVD to CRAF members.
  • The documentary featured on the ARIA TV website and YouTube (seen by 1,300 viewers early January 2013)

Active participants Planned figures*Actual
Network/NGO (CRAF-member organisations) 510
Group discussion with children and young people 34
Direct participants in film/debate preparation  40
Street working children in table discussion committee  7
Adult and youth viewing film in 2 presentations  377
Other group discussions by International Relief using War Child film  
- children and youth 76
- adults 32
Otherwise directly reached (December)  
Broadcasting film TV (ARIA) and YouTube500000501300
* Planned figures are not indicated for the active participants because at the planning stage it wasn’t clear yet which form the documentary would take and because the main project target was the 500.000 people reached through the broadcast.

Child conference and Child labour debate: 'Afghan Working Children: Enforcing Laws, Ensuring Children’s Rights'

The documentary on child labour was launched on the International Day of the Rights of the Child on  November 20, 2012. Simultaneous translation and sign language was used for the attending hearing- impaired children. A group of about 40 children, tutored by a self-organised committee of 7 older youth, prepared questions expressing their concerns for the debate with the Deputy Minister of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MOLSAMD). The Deputy Minister faced a serious and unexpected challenge providing explanations, arguments and answers to the questions posed by the children. The child committee received the admiration and warm applause of the more than 200 people in the hall.

Some questions and points raised in the conference and following debate were: What are the roles and responsibilities of the government and other stakeholders in upholding children’s rights to safety and education? What are MOLSAMD strategy and priorities to address child labour and where are the challenges? Why has child labour not been given the priority it deserves by government and donors? Where are the gaps and how can policies be put into practice? How to implement labour law enforcement for addressing the hazardous sectors of child labour?

Lessons learned

This project will be evaluated in 2013 after the production and launch of the second documentary.


    • Continuation of CRAF advocacy work. Within six months a strong network of committed organisations was created. They now have ownership of the process and are engaged in collectively reviewing the Universal Progress Review for Afghanistan for June 2013 as their first objective in 2013.
    • War Child project for street working children. A centre for working children will open in the first half of 2013, providing a comprehensive package of education, psychosocial support services and recreation activities.
    • To better protect children affected by the armed conflict in Afghanistan, child labour will remain a priority theme within War Child’s advocacy work in Afghanistan in 2013. The strategy aims at doubling direct services to working children at risk through local partners, as well as partaking in institutional responses with MOLSAMD, ILO and other policymakers to reinforce child protection mechanisms.

Project information
Name of the project: Child-Rights Advocacy and Media Work: Child Labour in Afghanistan
Duration: July-December 2012
Location: Kabul - Afghanistan
Partner organisations:

  • CRAF agencies (Save the Children, Children in Crisis, Human Rights Research and Advocacy Consortium, Health Net)

Target groups:

  • Working children
  • Parents of children who participated in the film
  • Duty bearers and key children’s actors like MOLSAMD, UNICEF, ILO, AIHRC, CRAF/War Child, SAVE, Aschiana
  • Child-orientated agencies
  • Afghan public and civil society through wide TV film dissemination

Project cost: € 9,835.64
FTE (local and expat) working on the project:

    • War Child – Country Director 0.3 FTE
    • War Child – Project Manager 0.1 FTE
    • ARIA TV: 7 FTE
    • CRAF agencies: 0.1 FTE



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