& Opinion
Friday 19 December 2014

Bilal stands in a side of a dustily bumpy road, staring at vehicles passing by. With the wind's freezing and cold waves beating down his face and hands – made them cracked and red. The 13-year old fills up giant buckets with frozen water from the tank. For the past seven months, Bilal has worked 7 days a week, 10 hours a day. From sunrise to sunset, he labors with a car wash shop miles away from home.

"I work from 8 in the morning until 6 at night," says Bilal. "Every morning, I wake up, clean the shop, fill out the buckets with water and wait for a vehicle to come by and wash it." Bilal is one of 120 million children worldwide, from ages 5 to 14, who work instead of going to school. Each day, nearly 80 million of these children risk their health, safety, and often their lives, to earn money. As many as 70 percent of world's working children labor on farms, picking corps, herding cattle, and operating equipment. In the fields, they are exposed to dangerous pesticides, or poisonous chemicals.

In Afghanistan, where children make up half the population, more than 30 percent of school aged children are weaving carpets in small huts with little light or fresh air, harvesting, metal working, electroplate working, stitching and repairing vehicles. They also go to work in cement, textile and food processing industries, or in the poppy fields. In several other places in the country, young boys work in mines, digging for gems and coal deep below the earth's surface. As they crawl through dark, cramped tunnels, the boys risk death from cave-ins. A growing number of underage girls are also being given to repay debts.Child labor is now a common practice in our country – having children engaged in economic activities, on full or part time basis. This so-called practice deprives children of their childhood, and is harmful to their physical and mental development.

Country chaos, poverty, lack of schools, and growth of economy are considered as the core causes of child labor in Afghanistan. International Labor Organization (ILO) suggests poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labor. What we can do to stop child labor is to donate funds in NGOs working for rehabilitation of street children, contact NGOs and make them aware about child labor happening in our society, make the rural people aware about the benefits of education, provide free education chances, especially to orphans, start campaign against child labor and help the government to stop child labor.

The problem of child labor continues to pose challenges to the country. Government should take various pro-active measures to tackle this problem; however, it requires concerted efforts from all the society to make a dent in the problem. If each individual takes responsibility of prevailing child labor, it can be brought under control. Every citizen should take corrective measures to stop child labor, so that we can have a better and developed Afghanistan. Child labor can be controlled if the government functions effectively with the support of the public.

For Bilal, school seems like a distant dream. After endless months of backbreaking labor, the homesick teenager has just one wish: to see his family again.

"I miss my mom," he says. "For the past two and a half months, I have asked to go home, but there is no one here to replace me. I have to wait until a new worker comes."

For now, Bilal works and waits

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