Peace Talks in Afghanistan
Afghanistan has endured war for decades with very little opportunity to rebuild and address the growing poverty rates and diminishing living conditions of its people.

In recent months, U.S. officials have begun discussions of peace talks in Afghanistan including plans to withdraw U.S. troops. The question is how will the prospects of peace under the terms that are being discussed affect poverty levels and quality of life for the Afghan citizens? Although peace is necessary for the growth of the Afghan economy, a reduction in U.S. support and funding could be detrimental to the lives of the Afghan people.

Effects of Conflict on Population

Years of conflict have had a disastrous effect on poverty in Afghanistan. According to a study from the World Bank, the number of people living below the poverty line has grown from 38.3 percent in 2012 to 55 percent in 2017, an increase of 5 million people. In addition, necessary resources such as education and employment remain inaccessible to the average Afghan citizen.

Secondary education attendance rates have dropped from 37 percent of children in 2013 to 35 percent of children attending in 2016. This decline is largely due to fewer girls attending school. Unemployment is rampant with 25 percent of the population unemployed and 80 percent of jobs qualify as insecure, meaning they consist of self or own account employment, day labor, or unpaid work. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the economy of Afghanistan is dependent upon three main factors: foreign aid, the sale of narcotics and the Taliban.

Peace Talks in Afghanistan

In order for the Afghan economy to successfully recover and improve the quality of life of its citizens, institutional changes must be made. The peace talks in Afghanistan may provide an opportunity to end the cycle of poverty in Afghanistan, but only if it is done carefully and political stability can be ensured. Peace in Afghanistan would be beneficial for the economy, allowing for the opportunity to spend less on war efforts and more on the needs of the poor. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), estimates suggest that a return to the low levels of violence that were recorded in 2004 would result in an increase in annual revenues of around 50 percent, or approximately 6 percent of GDP per year.

However, this is only the case if the peace talks in Afghanistan are successful in creating political stability. For example, in 2014, allegations of election fraud created a highly unstable political atmosphere in Afghanistan resulting in a fall in the country’s revenue and growth. An inability for the Afghan government and the Taliban to find an agreement that is suitable them both in the peace process may result in a similar instability and economic downturn.

US Aid and The Afghanistan Economy

The Afghan economy is reliant upon U.S. aid and when that aid has been cut in the past, the effects have been detrimental for the lives of the Afghan people. In 2013/2014, the U.S. reduced civil aid and withdrew a portion of its forces. In the same year, there was a 3 percent increase in the overall poverty rate, the unemployment rate for Afghan men tripled and 76 percent of rural jobs that were created in 2007/2008 were lost.

Should U.S. aid be cut in a new peace deal, the effects will not be positive for the poverty levels in Afghanistan. Peace is necessary to create substantial economic growth in Afghanistan. However, any peace talks in Afghanistan that fail to address the political instability in the country and that reduce foreign aid to the Afghan people can only result in further suffering for the country.

Success Stories

Despite the bleak realities of war and violence in Afghanistan, there have been several successful aid programs in the country that have been improving the lives of the citizens. For example, the government of Afghanistan has struggled to implement an effective police force. As a result of the UNDP’s Law and Order Trust Fund for Afghanistan (LOTFA) over 150,000 Afghan police officers receive payment on time and accurately. The organization has also taken the initiative to recruit and train female police officers, resulting in 70 Police Women Councils in every province in Afghanistan. The UNDP has also funded a program to create 19  hydroelectric power plants, which are now supplying electricity to 18,606 people in Afghanistan.

Although war has ravaged Afghanistan for decades, the presence of various nongovernmental organizations and their projects to improve the lives of the citizens in combination with peace talks currently ongoing in Afghanistan that can ensure political stability and continued aid to the country have the possibility to break the cycle of poverty.

– Alina Patrick

Photo: Flickr

Polio Eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria - The Final Three
Poliomyelitis, often called polio or infantile paralysis is an infectious disease caused by the poliovirus. It is a devastating disease that primarily impacts children and it can survive in the wild, but not for long without a human host. There is no cure, therefore, immunization is the foundation for eradication efforts. Today, polio is almost entirely eradicated from the planet.

Global immunization campaigns have made terrific progress in decreasing wild poliovirus (WPV) cases by over 99 percent in the past 30 years, down from an estimated 350,000 cases in 1988 to 29 reported cases in 2018. While more work needs to be done, the world is closing in on the virus and all eyes are on polio eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria- the three final endemic countries. In the text below, the status of polio in these three countries is presented.

Polio Eradication in Afghanistan

Between the three countries listed above, in 2018 the most global polio cases were reported in Afghanistan. However, Afghanistan is the only endemic country not currently battling vaccine-derived polio, a form that can paralyze, in addition to WPV, which is a victory. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), in conjunction with Afghanistan’s Emergency Operation Centres, has dedicated continuing high-priority surveillance and instituted an aggressive immunization campaign to eradicate WPV in order to protect those most affected.

In November 2018, the country concluded an immunization campaign that targeted over five million children in the highest-risk provinces. These accomplishments are impressive, but at the same time fragile, because every single child must be vaccinated in this rapidly growing country. The Emergency Operation Centres are continuing to work under a National Emergency Action Plan and with local communities to ensure that all children are consistently reached now and in the future.

Polio Eradication in Pakistan

Polio could be eliminated from Pakistan this year, with continued strategic implementation. A vaccination campaign in December reached nearly 40 million children and the number of reported cases in the country is the lowest it has ever been. The race to the finish line requires continued focus on immunity gaps in high-risk and mobile communities, especially those that are close to the places where the virus is still indigenous, as well as continued accountability and high childhood vaccination rates.

Additionally, several of the endemic polio regions remain on the border with Afghanistan, which will require the two countries to continue addressing these WPV strongholds together. This region highlights the continued global threat of a virus that transcends geopolitical boundaries.

Polio Eradication in Nigeria

While WPV has never stopped circulating in Nigeria, there have not been any WPV cases since 2016. This is a terrific start towards wild polio eradication, but Nigeria has seen years without a WPV outbreak in the past only to see it return. The country is also managing continued vaccine-derived outbreaks. While immunization is paramount to eradication, some forms of the vaccine can infect patients and cause an outbreak. Though this adds a complex level to eradication strategies, immunization remains the most viable solution.

Currently, a variety of innovative solutions are underway to reach children in high-risk areas, including international immunization campaigns in the Lake Chad Basin whenever security permits, market vaccinations and seeking out nomadic communities. Similar to Afghanistan and Pakistan, continued efforts remain focused on closing immunity gaps, vaccinating all children and working with the country’s neighbors, but additional support for political and financial commitment is needed in Nigeria.

Going Forward

Wild polio eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria is almost complete, but there are several challenges facing major vaccination efforts. In order to achieve elimination, every single child needs to be immunized. Even one unvaccinated child leaves the entire world at risk of infection.

There are, however, real challenges to this seemingly straightforward goal. Barriers like reaching children in mobile populations or in active conflict zones require international political coordination and more resources for mobile and stationary vaccination teams. Another major barrier is vaccine-derived polio cases, which threaten populations that don’t currently see polio in the wild. Research into the implications of adjusting the vaccine are underway and seek to address eliminating the spread of vaccine-derived infection.

It will not be possible to eradicate every disease with vaccination. Polio is one of the ones that can be. As global health efforts target polio eradication in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria, the world will likely be able to list polio next to smallpox and rinderpest on the coveted list of globally eradicated diseases.

– Sarah Fodero

Photo: Flickr

Drought in Afghanistan
Afghanistan, a landlocked Asian country, is experiencing the worst drought in the past five decades. The United Nations has estimated that 2 million people have been affected by the drought and that 1.4 million people are in need of urgent food assistance. Several years of low rainfall and snowfall have led to the seriousness of the drought in Afghanistan.

The Drought in Afghanistan

The drought has affected 20 provinces in the country. Almost 1.5 million people rely on agriculture products for food in these affected regions. It has majorly affected the planting of wheat and livestock pastures. The Famine Early Warning System Network has placed many regions in Afghanistan in a crisis state and some regions are even considered to be in emergency phases. Due to the drought in Afghanistan, the number of households in the crisis to emergency phases are expected to rise even more.

The Effect on Refugee Crisis

The recent drought in Afghanistan has added more pressure to the refugee and displaced person population in the region. Water levels are so low that, in some areas, dry wells are driving even more people to leave the country.

Continuous conflict and unemployment have been a typical factor of migration in Afghanistan, but now the drought adds to the problem. During the recent refugee crisis, Afghans were the second largest group of refugees. Countries like Iran and Pakistan are no longer welcoming Afghanistan refugees and are even encouraging refugees to return home. Those who are unable to leave the country move into urban cities in order to find work to provide for their family.

International Response to Drought in Afghanistan

The European Union has recently added $22.7 million in emergency aid to the region in response to the severeness of the drought in Afghanistan. The recent funding will help to provide assistance to projects on the ground. These ground projects include food assistance, water, sanitation and health care.

A portion of this help will come from the EU’s own Emergency Response Mechanism that provides assistance to vulnerable regions. The Humanitarian Country Team also plans to revise their Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) to ask for $177 million in aid to assist people affected by the drought. The revision of the HRP plans to reach 4.2 million people across the country in various aspects, especially agriculture, sanitation and nutrition. These programs aim to ensure food security in the region as the number of households in need of emergency assistance increases.

There is hope for the region to somewhat sustain itself. The coming of Fall and El Nino, routine climate pattern, are promising to planters in Afghanistan. El Nino is expected to provide more than average precipitation in the coming season. The areas planted for wheat are expected to be higher than average due to the prediction of high precipitation.

This prediction, however, is one of many and there are other outcomes for the spread of rainfall. Hopefully, rainfall will return to the region and provide farmers with the resources to plant and harvest. As long as the people in urgent need of humanitarian aid are assisted, there is hope to ensure food security for those most affected by the drought in Afghanistan.

– Olivia Halliburton
Photo: Flickr

Top 5 Countries Receiving Economic Aid in 2019
In the fiscal year 2019, the U.S. Federal Government plans on spending $1.24 trillion. Out of this amount, foreign assistance will account for $27 billion. This spending is broken down into several categories including economic development. Approximately $2 billion will be directed toward generating economic growth in developing countries. In the text below, the top five countries receiving the economic aid in 2019 are presented.

Jordan

The first country on the list is Jordan. Jordan will receive $1.27 billion in aid and roughly 48 percent of that money is planned for economic development. The focus of this aid is on a plan called the Microeconomic Foundation for Growth Assistance. The goal of this funding is to create a stable economic landscape that will allow the private sector to invest. This will aid Jordan by creating both monetary and fiscal policies that will allow the government to have a greater control of the economy.

These reforms are needed due to the economic crisis that Jordan is currently facing. Jordan’s debt makes up 94 percent of the country’s GDP. The cost of living has also risen dramatically in the past years. The Economist ranked Amman, the capital of Jordan, as the most expensive Arab city to live in. However, Jordan is working to end its economic crisis. Recently, Jordan received a $723 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and plans to lower the country’s debt to 77 percent of GDP by 2021.  

Afghanistan

The second country on the list is Afghanistan. This country is projected to receive $93 million for economic development. Most of this funds ($57 million), will be aimed toward agricultural development. This money will be focused on the distribution, processing and trade of agricultural goods.

In 2018, Afghanistan’s GDP increased by five times compared to 2002. However, a large trade deficit threatens Afghanistan’s economy. Most of Afghanistan’s economy relies on imports and this is the main reason why the country needs help in distributing agricultural goods. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided airlifts in 2017 to help export goods to international markets. USAID also provided alternative road transport. In total, this organization helped to move $223 million of goods.  

Kenya

In 2019 Kenya, will receive $624 million of aid from the United States. Out of this amount, 5 percent will be aimed at economic development of the country, totaling $29 million. Almost 80 percent of this money will be for agriculture. Like Afghanistan, the focus of the aid is towards the distribution, processing and trade of agricultural goods.

In Kenya, agriculture makes up 27 percent of the country’s GDP and it is vulnerable to various kinds of natural disasters, like droughts. In 2014, Kenya reported a national drought emergency and the drought left millions of people vulnerable.

The drought continued to 2018 and USAID is studying the situation and working on solutions to help lessen the impact of the drought. In the period of 2015 to 2017 USAID implemented several programs to help create more drought resistant incentives for farmers. Kenya’s GDP is expected to grow by 5.5 percent in 2018, compared to 4.8 in 2017. This is directly related to a better weather situation in the country.

Tanzania

Economic aid directed toward Tanzania is projected to be 1 percent of the aid package, which equals $7 million. This amount will be aimed towards agriculture.

Agriculture makes up for 25 percent of Tanzania’s GDP and around 75 percent the country population is employed in this sector. The United States sees this as an opportunity to increase incomes and living conditions for Tanzanians. USAID has been working on a program in Tanzania known as Feed the Future. This program increases competitiveness, productivity and creates infrastructure so farmers can reach more markets.

In 2017, over 400,000 Tanzanians have benefited from Feed the Future. This is reiterated by the fact that rice productivity doubled per acre and the average gross margins for horticulture reached $3,900 per acre.

Uganda   

Uganda is projected to receive $461 million in 2019. Four percent or almost $19 million are going towards economic development. Majority of this amount is going towards agriculture development.

Like Tanzania, a large percentage of Uganda’s GDP and workforce are concentrated in agriculture. Twenty-four percent of the country’s GDP is made up of agriculture and farming employs two-thirds of the population.

USAID implemented the Feed the Future Program in Uganda as well. One of the most important initiatives was implementing an e-verification sticker in fruits sold that was intended for keeping track of purchase inputs. This initiative is aimed at combating the $1 billion loss that Uganda faces from counterfeit inputs on yearly basis. It also laid private investors consciences to rest, since they invested over $6 million in Uganda’s agricultural business in 2016.

In summary, the top five countries receiving the economic aid from the U.S. in 2019 are Jordan, Afghanistan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. The United States government invests billions of dollars every year into foreign aid. One of the best ways to use that money is to invest in economic development, which helps improve the conditions of people living in developing countries.

Economic stability is one of the most crucial factors in ensuring safety across the world. 

– Drew Garbe
Photo: Flickr

The 7 Virtues and Afghanistan's Opium EpidemicIn the war-torn country of Afganistan, groups such as the Taliban enlist the help of opium farmers to finance their terrorist operations. Since opium crops are the most effective way to make a profit, farmers living in poverty have little to no reasons to resist contributing to the drug trade.

However, farmers in Afganistan can defeat terrorism with this unexpected strategy- selling oranges and roses. A perfume company called The 7 Virtues pays a generous amount for these ingredients which are used in the perfumes so that families can have a sustainable livelihood. Their philanthropy benefits the people of Afghanistan, the United States, and the world in general.

Opium Production in Afganistan

There is a huge demand for opium in Afghanistan, but the consequences of this illegal drug extend far beyond the country’s borders. Afghanistan farmers produce between 70 and 80 percent of the world’s supply of opium, and the drug industry spurring on their production is responsible for opium-related deaths throughout the world. In addition to funding terrorist operations, growing opium encourages other illegal behaviors and contributes to Afghanistan’s violent atmosphere.

It is no coincidence that some of the poorest farmers in the world are producing opium in Afghanistan. To survive, families must resort to a form of employment they might abstain from under less desperate circumstances. However, selling legal crops is not very profitable. Experts concerned about the economic development of Afghanistan have warned against stifling the opium trade because they don’t want more than three million farming families to lose their main source of income. Renting land is expensive for shareholders, so they need to sell crops in high demand. Compared to legal crops, opium brings in the most revenue.

The 7 Virtues

Barb Stegemann, the founder of The 7 Virtues, is determined to address violence and economic instability in Afghanistan with economic power. Many businesses in the fashion industry exploit cheap labor without giving the workers sustainable wages, so the company hopes to set a good example for others to follow. It lifts more than 1,000 families in Afganistan out of poverty by paying twice as much for essential oils to the farmers as they would get by selling opium. By selling legal crops for a generous price, this simultaneously limits financial support for terrorist groups. The company does business with other countries affected by violence and conflict such as Haiti, Rwanda and countries in the Middle East.

Legal crop production benefits more people than just farmers in the country. Reduced activity from terrorist groups is good for U.S. national security and saves people from opium addiction all over the world. Stegemann’s motto is: “Good for the world. Good for your skin.” Not only that perfumes made by The 7 Virtues are phthalate and paraben free, but they are also not tested on animals. Due to their rising popularity, the perfumes will be sold in Sephora outlets. Partnering with a mainstream beauty store helps maximize their visibility among consumers and makes the perfume easily accessible for supporters of Stegemann’s company.

Other Methods for Opium Reduction

The elected government in Afghanistan has introduced several other methods for interrupting the opium trade. They’re currently testing the effectiveness of aircraft that spray herbicides over poppy fields. This practice is announced prior to the harvest season that gives opium farmers a chance to make the decision of planting legal crops. The government is also confiscating the property of landlords who encourage shareholders to grow opium poppy plants. Future plans include research on types of crops grown in provinces controlled by terrorist groups. This will provide information about where they collect revenue and allow the government to focus their opium eradication efforts.

Barb Stegemann began a legacy to demonstrate the power of investment for alleviating poverty. Instead of fighting terrorism with more violence, she proves that Afghanistan’s problems can be solved with a bottle of fragrance.

Sabrina Dubbert
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Education in Afghanistan
After the war with the Soviet Union and the subsequent takeover of the country by the Taliban, access to education in Afghanistan was limited. Moreover, the education system that was in place in that period was less than adequate. However, since the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 and the installment of a more democratic government in Afghanistan, the nation’s education system has seen improvements.

Facts About Education in Afghanistan

  1. In 2002, after the Taliban were overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition army, it was estimated that only about one million children were attending school. Of that number, the vast majority were boys.
  2. Prior to 2002, any education that children received was dominated by religion. Children were educated through the Quran and the teachings of Mohammed. Little attention was paid to courses in science, technology or liberal arts.
  3. Under the Taliban government, girls were pretty much prohibited from obtaining an education. Little education that girls did receive was based on scripture from the Quran, and basic reading and writing skills.
  4. College enrollment was also minimal while the Taliban controlled Afghanistan. In 2001, only 1% of college-aged students were enrolled in an institution for higher education.
  5.  After the Taliban regime was overthrown, the number of students enrolling in colleges and universities increased. According to USAID (United States Agency for International Development), over 9.2 million students are currently enrolled in a higher education institution, and 39% of those students are female.
  6. Public and private universities (excluding technical or secondary schools) enroll around 300,000 students. Of that number, about 100,000 are female students.
  7. Access to education has also increased in recent years. As of 2016-2017, over 119,000 children in rural areas had access to education.
  8. In recent years, there has also been an emphasis on training and equipping teachers on how best to serve and educate the expanding number of students. USAID has trained over 154,000 teachers. Of that number of educators, over one third are women.
  9. The American University of Afghanistan (AUAF), the first private, independent, non-profit university in Afghanistan strives to expand educational opportunities for women. Its’ current student body is almost 41% female. This is quite impressive, given Afghanistan’s history of denying education opportunities to women and young girls.
  10. While the above facts showcase some of the accomplishments that have occurred in Afghanistan in the last 15 years, much work still needs to be done. For example, the overall literacy rate is still sub-par for most of the nation and many students still do not have easy access to schools. Also, many Afghan children cross the border to go to Pakistan so they can be taught in madrassas’, where Islamic fundamentalism is rampant.

Much has improved in the last several years regarding education in Afghanistan. Hopefully, this text will inspire you, the reader, about the necessity and importance of continuing the work of groups like USAID in helping in much-needed areas and countries. With international aid and support, the gains that Afghanistan has made in recent years, in education and in other areas, will not be in vain.

– Raymond Terry
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Girls' Education in Afghanistan
When it comes to education in Afghanistan, the structure has been destroyed by years of consistent conflict and political instability. Unfortunately, young girls seem to suffer a great deal as a result, receiving a lower quality of education, or being out of school all together. These top ten facts about girls’ education in Afghanistan give a brief rundown of the various obstacles girls face in receiving proper schooling.

Top 10 Facts About Girls’ Education in Afghanistan

  1. UNICEF has recently reported that approximately 3.7 million children are out of school, and 60 percent of those children are female. That’s 1 in every 3 girls attending school everyday, which is the steepest drop in school attendance in 16 years. In fact, UNICEF stated that “the ongoing conflict and worsening security situation across the country, combined with deeply ingrained poverty and discrimination against girls, have pushed the rate of out-of-school children up for the first time since 2002 levels.”
  2. The level of literacy among boys is much higher at 66 percent, while the literacy rate of young girls is just 37 percent. The Afghanistan government has not provided as many schools for girls as it has boys at primary and secondary levels.
  3. A lack of female teachers, specifically in rural areas, may be a reason for low enrollment of girls. In half of all Afghan provinces less than 20 percent of all teachers are female, and in some families it is unacceptable for young, soon-to-be adolescent girls to be taught by a male teacher.
  4. Gender norms also frequently come into play. In some instances, families see boys’ education as being of greater importance than that of girls’, or as superfluous, only necessary in the years before puberty. About one third of girls are married before the age of 18 and are then urged to discontinue their education.
  5. In some schools there is a lack of sanitation and access to clean and safe private toilets (this is also a problem worldwide). Girls tend to need access to bathroom facilities more often than boys, especially with the onset of puberty and menstruation. Without a proper place to get rid of waste and wash, there is immense difficulty in managing hygiene. For health and sanitation reasons such as these, some girls choose to stay home, gathering unexcused absences and missing valuable class time.
  6. Children who come from low-income homes are required to work at school-age. According to the Human Rights Watch, at least 25 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 work for a living, and as a result, education oftentimes becomes a burden. Girls typically make money by weaving or tailoring, but some do other small jobs like selling items on the street. 
  7. The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic political movement that started war within the country, are present in over 40 percent of the districts. The conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban pushes families away from their homes and creates millions of displaced Afghan citizens. Girls are permitted to go to school for only a few years or are prohibited from receiving education entirely in areas under Taliban control.
  8. Teachers often find it difficult to provide quality education with a lack of supplies and resources, low salaries and being understaffed. The job pays about $100 per month and many teachers are hired with inadequate levels of training and education.
  9. CBEs stands for “Community-based education” programs and they are good educational opportunities for girls who may miss school. Research has showed promising results that CBEs have lead to an increase in enrollment and test scores for girls according to Human Rights Watch. These programs are solutions to many issues such as traveling long distances to reach school or lack of female teachers amongst others.
  10. Fear of natural disasters like floods and earthquakes can make parents apprehensive about sending their children to school.

Relief Efforts For the Future

These top ten facts about girls’ education in Afghanistan are just the tip of the iceberg; thankfully, there are many relief efforts to combat some of the aforementioned prevalent and widespread issues. Today, UNICEF continues to work with the Ministry of Education at the federal and local levels to work on the lack of female education causes such as poverty, gender bias and conflict.

The organization established CBEs and Accelerated Learning Centers in close proximity to communities, supports policies and programs that benefit the education of young girls on the national level and provides emergency education in times of natural disaster and conflict. With efforts such as these, the future of girls’ education in Afghanistan looks more than promising. 

– Camille Wilson

Photo: Flickr

Child soldiers in AfghanistanUnder the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.

 

Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr

mobile library in Kabul
Using only a large bus, a young Oxford graduate has launched a mobile library in Kabul, Afghanistan, to bring the joys of reading and learning to children and adults alike. In a country where not everyone has the opportunity to go to school, this library is making a world of difference.

History of Instability Has Affected Children’s Education in Afghanistan

Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan, has a history of violence. The nation has been marked by unstable governments and other violent groups, many of which plan attacks in the city of Kabul. Parents tend to keep their children behind closed doors to keep them safe.

Afghanistan also has a very low literacy rate, with only 36 percent of the population being able to read, and among women, this figure drops to 17 percent. Between three and five million children in Afghanistan are estimated to miss school this year, 85 percent of whom are young girls.

Freshta Karim, a public policy master’s graduate from Oxford University, saw this as an opportunity to help children in Kabul begin to learn and have fun. Karim grew up as a refugee in Pakistan, then returned to Afghanistan in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. She says that she missed out on some childhood experiences due to the violence in the region and the inability of many to attend school. She recognized the importance of providing a space where children could be children and learn and grow as individuals.

With the help of a group of young educated volunteers, Karim launched the mobile library in Kabul in February 2018. The library is named Charmaghz, the Dari word for walnut, which in Afghan culture is associated with logic.

Mobile Library in Kabul Receives an Overwhelming Response

The library offers free access to more than 600 books in Dari, Pashto and English. In addition to books on many topics, there is access to board games, poetry, and music that allows children to learn about Afghan culture. Charmaghz stops at parks, schools and orphanages around Kabul for a few hours at a time, making two to three stops per day to provide access to as many children as possible.

In the first three weeks of operation, the library had more than 1,000 visitors. The library now draws approximately 300 people per day and has many regulars. Children come to learn, read and play with their friends, adults bring snacks and tea and volunteers come to lead sessions with children to discuss stories.

“It is beyond our beliefs and expectations how people love our program. We are humbled by their response. They appreciate and support it,” Karim said of the individuals who visit the library. Charmaghz was started to help a younger generation learn to read and broaden their horizons, and it seems the public is responding well to the new addition.

The team operating Charmaghz would like to ultimately expand. Currently, the mobile library in Kabul is financed by donations from Afghan professionals, and small donations from anyone who can afford to give anything. With this support, Karim believes expansion to other areas of Afghanistan, and providing more services, such as documentary screening, would be possible.

What started as a small effort to bring reading and learning opportunities to children in Kabul has become a staple of the community, encouraging children to grow and continue learning despite difficult circumstances.

– Katherine Kirker
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Crisis in Afghanistan
According to the most recent Afghanistan Living Conditions Survey (ALCS), the poverty rate in Afghanistan has taken an enormous leap over the past few years, rising from 38 percent in 2011-12 to 55 percent in 2016-17. 
In addition, the percentage of Afghans facing food insecurity jumped from 30 percent to 45 percent, and the underemployment rate (the percentage of people working in jobs that pay too little to sustain themselves) rose from 17 percent to 24 percent over the same timeframe.

The survey states that this “sharp deterioration” is mainly due to macroeconomic, security and demographic factors. These may sound like rather broad issues, but the poverty crisis in Afghanistan can be traced to two major problems.

Reduced NATO Troop Presence Increases Instability

The first of these is the departure of NATO combat troops, which took place in 2014. At its peak, NATO involvement in Afghanistan consisted of about 130,000 troops on the ground to protect civilians from the threat of terrorism. The total number of troops currently stands at about 15,000.

This reduction has made it easier for the Taliban, Afghanistan’s most prominent terrorist group, to increase its presence in the country. In fact, the BBC reported that the Taliban controlled or threatened approximately 70 percent of Afghan territory as of January.

Frequent terrorist attacks and violent conflict have led to an increase in poverty because many have been forced to flee their homes, leave their jobs and pull their children out of school in fear for their lives. This constant instability can make it difficult for families to find ways to provide for themselves.

In response to the negative effects since NATO’s transition out of Afghanistan, the Trump administration sent approximately 3,000 more NATO troops to Afghanistan at the beginning of this year. The effects of this increase have yet to be determined.

Disproportionate Age of Population Contributes to Poverty Crisis in Afghanistan

The second contributor to the poverty crisis in Afghanistan is one whose solution is less clear: the age of the population. The ALCS report indicates that 48 percent of the population is under the age of 15, meaning it has one of the youngest populations in the world.

This anomaly has created an economic dilemma for Afghanistan. The dependency ratio currently stands at 101, which means that 100 income-earning adults have to provide for 101 dependent people.

What this high number implies is that adults are having to spend more money on food, medical care and education for their children. But since most of the population is not old enough to work yet, all of these burdens are placed on a relatively small amount of income earners, which results in more money being spent than earned and leads to higher rates of poverty.

Afghanistan Makes Major Gains in Women’s Employment

One solution offered by the report is to encourage greater involvement of women in the workforce. The female labor force participation rate in Afghanistan as of 2017 is about 19 percent. Although this is the highest rate ever recorded in the country and is a great sign of progress, there is still quite a way to go for Afghanistan to match the world average of 49 percent.

Increasing measures to fight terrorism and creating employment opportunities for women are not simple tasks by any means, but they can be accomplished with hard work. Though conditions may seem dire now, the poverty crisis in Afghanistan is not unsolvable.

– Maddi Roy
Photo: Flickr