Herat is a big, ancient, and beautiful city with nice people and many historical places. People speak Pashto and Dari. And street children are a familiar sight here. Every day in the city and the villages I see many street children working hard. Some of them not only work the streets, but spend half of the day studying. They look very young and helpless, both boys and girls, all under eighteen years old, and many of them are susceptible to crises and social problems such as drugs and violence.
Street children in Afghanistan work to provide the family’s income. They beg, shine shoes, clean vehicles, and sell newspapers, glasses, chewing gum, plastic bags, phone cards, and flowers. Sometimes they are abused physically and emotionally, and they get involved in robbery and drug trafficking.
Most of these street children are refugees from the many insecure places in my country, or their parents were killed in the war. They are always hungry and have limited access to medical care, food, education, protection, and shelter because they have to work from dawn to dusk to support their families. Thousands of children work the streets to help their families through the harsh winter.
I recently graduated from Herat University and while at the university, my research was about street children. Despite the progress in school enrollment over the last two years, half of school-age children are out of school. Some of these street children’s families are addicted to narcotics and their parents force them to work in the streets. Other street children simply live in poverty or insecurity.
One twelve-year-old boy told me, “My father is dead and I have my mother and three sisters. I work to support them and pay the monthly rent for our house.”
Afsana, a street girl who sells plastics, told me she sells on the street in the afternoon but in the morning she goes to school because she wants to become a teacher and teach street children. “I want people to help me so I can achieve my dreams.” I did my research with a group of my classmates at the university. I found that despite the problems that street children have, they are very eager to study and help their families escape from poverty.
When I finished this project, I concluded that the government must recognize and help these street children, and provide them with temporary shelter and access to education. Most of these families have too many children and they need to be taught about birth control. These children need a healthy environment so they can learn. Another priority is to open age-appropriate workshops and offer skills training to these children. I believe that children also should have the right to play and experience joy. I hope that one day all these children achieve their goals and get access to education and have a bright future.
By Khadija N.
UN Photo/Eric Kanalstein