7 January 2023 - Afghanistan

Ban on female aid workers could push Afghan children back into work

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KABUL, 7 Jan 2023 – Two weeks since the Taliban banned women from working for any international or national non-government organisations in Afghanistan, children could be forced back into working on the streets, in factories or in people’s homes because the services supporting them have been paused due to the ban, Save the Children warned today.

Save the Children has had to pause its programme activities in Afghanistan due to the ban because women are essential for the safe and effective delivery of its services. Female aid workers make up 50% of the organisation’s workforce and are crucial for reaching women and girls who, due to cultural reasons, cannot interact with male aid workers.

The ban comes at a time when Afghanistan is facing its worst economic and food crisis on record, with more than 28 million children and adults in need of humanitarian support. Parents desperate to feed their families are increasingly sending their children to work in often dangerous environments. A recent assessment found that 29% of female-headed households in 2022 had at least one child engaged in child labour, up from 19% in 2021.

Hasina*, one of Save the Children’s child protection workers, said she was deeply concerned that the ban will mean children are pushed back into child labour:

The ban on female aid workers means we cannot run our programmes that help children, especially girls, involved in the most dangerous forms of child labour. These include working in brick factories, on building sites and in people’s homes, as well as collecting rubbish and begging on the streets.

Our female staff are involved in every aspect of the programme, from going door-to-door identifying girls involved in child labour to registering and supporting them to return to school or enrol in vocational training, or teaching the girls technical skills and helping them to set up their own businesses – everything

If we cannot resume our child protection services with our female staff, many girls will be pushed back into child labour and their former lives of misery.”

Nasreen*, 16, is one of many children in Afghanistan who was forced to leave school to work. Hasina and her team found Nasreen and enrolled her in Save the Children’s vocational training programme.

We had many financial problems, and I was working in other people’s homes cleaning, washing dishes, looking after children and cooking. But it wasn’t enough, so I had to start begging as well. I was so upset, unhappy and tired from my life,” Nasreen said.

Save the Children staff went from house to house to identify the vulnerable boys and girls. Someone told them about me and that I was working in people’s homes. Then they interviewed me and then I received literacy classes for two months and then we started vocational training. I’m learning how to embroider, sew clothes and design clothes. It’s a good chance and opportunity for me and I feel so happy.”

But with the programme now paused due to the ban, Nasreen is at home and worried she will be forced to return to work.

I recently spoke with Nasreen and she’s very upset about the training being paused. I asked her if she would learn from a male staff member and she said that her father and the community would not allow her to go to classes with male teachers and they would not be allowed to visit her home,” Hasina said.

She said she was hoping to open her own business and become a trainer at the centre one day. Now she’s at home and is fearful of what her future will hold.”

The Taliban’s ban on female NGO workers will have a devastating impact on millions of children, women and men in need of aid across Afghanistan.  

Save the Children, along with other international NGOs, is calling for an immediate reversal of the ban and assurances from the relevant de-facto authorities that its female staff will be able to work safely and without impediment.

 

*Names changed to protect identities

NOTES TO EDITORS

  • Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976 to deliver life-saving services to children and their families across the country.
  • When the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in August 2021, Save the Children suspended operations temporarily and then re-started again in September 2021. Since then, the organisation has provided vital support to nearly 4 million people, including 2 million children.
  • Save the Children’s child protection services include mental health and psychosocial support for children in one-on-one and group counselling sessions and helping children to build their resilience and coping strategies via children’s groups and child friendly spaces. We also provide cash grants to families to help them avoid resorting to desperate measures to survive, such as selling their children into marriage or sending them to work.
  • Our child labour project helps children to return to school or, if that’s not possible, provides them with vocational training and a small business grant to help them create a safe and sustainable income. All of these activities are currently paused due to the ban.

For further enquiries please contact our media out of hours (BST) media@savethechildren.org.uk / +44(0)7831 650409