New York, NY
Afghan refugee children and adolescents living in urban areas in Pakistan are being neglected and are receiving little or no international humanitarian assistance and protection, according to a new report by the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children. Many are forced to work as child laborers under dangerous conditions simply to survive, says the report, Fending for Themselves: Afghan Refugee Children and Adolescents Working in Urban Pakistan.
"Tens of thousands of refugees have fled to urban areas in Pakistan since September 11, but almost all international assistance and protection efforts are focused on refugees in camps, and the situation for young Afghans in the cities is deteriorating seriously," said Jane Lowicki, Senior Coordinator, Children and Adolescents Project, who visited Pakistan in January. "Many of these refugees and the communities that are struggling to support them are wondering why help promised by the U.S. and other countries has not reached them."
With few alternatives for earning a livelihood, many Afghan refugee parents in urban areas are forcing their children to work in high-risk industries to support the household. "Thousands are carpet weavers, others are street children working as garbage pickers, beggars, brick makers, house servants and, in some cases, drug sellers," Lowicki said. "These young workers are the poorest and most desperate among the Afghan community. Their work exposes them to disease, physical and sexual abuse, and few have access to health services, education or recreation. Their situation has become even more difficult since Sept. 11 because many new young refugees have entered the competition for work, and resources are scarce."
Afghan refugee adolescents and children, some as young as five years old, are working harder than ever for less money. The formerly lucrative carpet weaving industry, for example, which relies heavily on cheap Afghan child labor, bottomed out after Sept. 11; young refugees are now being paid less than half of what they were making to weave carpets for markets around the world.
In many cases, children and adolescents are the primary wage earners for their families, and all of the young Afghan refugees interviewed for the report said they urgently need food, shelter and medical care. They are also eager for a chance to go to school and to learn skills and trades to support themselves through less hazardous work.
The Women's Commission is calling on the government of Pakistan, major donor governments, United Nations agencies and other international organizations to support and work together with local groups to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to the newest and most vulnerable Afghan refugees in urban areas, especially to improve the working conditions of child and adolescent laborers. Poverty within Afghan and Pakistani communities, particularly when it is the result of prolonged conflict, the Women's Commission asserts, must be addressed through a combination of long-term economic development, as well as humanitarian assistance.
"All Afghan refugees, whether they are in camps or in urban areas, have equal rights to protection, education, health care and other assistance," Lowicki said. "The deadlock over assisting refugee young people in urban areas must end; they must be given full access to opportunities so they, too, might have a chance for a more hopeful future."
Expert from the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children available for interviews:
Jane Lowicki, Senior Coordinator, Children and Adolescents Project
The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children works to ensure that refugee and displaced women, children and adolescents are given protection, encouraged to participate, and have access to education, health services and livelihood opportunities. Through a vigorous and comprehensive program of advocacy, supported by extensive research and technical expertise, the Women's Commission serves as an expert resource and works with governments, United Nations agencies, international and local nongovernmental organizations, and donors to improve the lives of displaced women and children. The Women's Commission was founded in 1989 under the auspices of the International Rescue Committee.