Ban on female aid workers could push children in Afghanistan back into work: NGO

File photo.

Save the Children organization has warned that children could be forced back into working on the streets, in factories, or in people’s homes as services providing aid to them have been forced to suspend operations due to the Taliban’s ban on women working for NGOs.

According to Save the Children, it has had to pause its program 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 organization’s workforce and are crucial for reaching women and girls who, due to cultural reasons, cannot interact with male aid workers, the organization said Saturday.

The Taliban’s 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 and a recent assessment found that 29% of female-headed households in 2022 had at least one child engaged in child labor, 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 labor: “The ban on female aid workers means we cannot run our programs that help children, especially girls, involved in the most dangerous forms of child labor, such as working in brick factories, on building sites, in people’s homes and collecting rubbish and begging on the streets.

“Our female staff are involved in every aspect of the program, from going door-to-door to identify girls involved in child labor, registering the girls and supporting them to return to school or enrolling them in vocational training, 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 labor 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 program.

“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,” Nasreen said.

But Save the Children said that with the program 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 center one day. Now she’s at home and is fearful of what her future will hold,” Hasina added.

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