AFGHANISTAN. Herat: Many barefooted minor girls with ragged appearance can be seen working in different corners of Herat city, in northwestern Afghanistan. These girls who are mostly at their adolescence stage work as street peddlers and do menial works like polishing shoes, collecting wasted plastic etc. Unfortunately, these girls have to face verbal and sexual harassment while working.
The girls’ ages ranging from 6-15 spend their day on the streets of Herat to make a living and support their family.
Some of the small girl laborers interviewed in this story said they face verbal and sexual harassment, almost every day. But they can’t stop their work on the streets, because they don’t have any other option.
Sexual relation in return for money
Halima (name changed), a 10-year-old orphan in Herat, is a laborer who has to polish the people’s shoes from dawn to dusk. She said that while working she has been harassed many times by men.
“Some men took me and my friend in a car and told us that they will give money as support, but they touched our body,” Halima said, adding that most of her friends experienced such consequences. She also said that many men propose money in return for touching or holding sexual relations with minor girls.
“One day, a car stopped by me, and said come with me, I’ll take you to a good place and will give you money in return so you don’t be forced to polish the shoes. I was really scared at that time and started running away,” Halima said.
“This is an everyday condition, I can’t do anything about it,” she added.
According to some girl laborers, most of them earn between 70-100 Afghani (almost $0.9- $1.29) per day.
Based on the latest figures by the Afghanistan Education Ministry, around five million children are out of education, which is due to war and poverty, and dig up their days to financially support their families. From 2014-2021, the number of child laborers in Afghanistan has increased by 14.5%.
Bahara (name changed), 12, is another orphan who walks barefooted from outskirts and rural areas of Herat to work in the city. She collects plastics and waste bottles in front of Herat Farhang Park road everyday. “I was working till the night, with no shoes, and my feet had pain. A car stopped near me and said get on my car, I’ll take you to the hospital and will bring you back here in the morning.”
“I have never complained to officials and police because I don’t trust those men,” she said.
Narges (name changed), 10, said that she polishes shoes to financially support her family. Sharing her plight, Narges said that sometimes men try to harass her while paying for her work. “Sometimes, men touch my body when they pay me for my work and try desperately to touch my private organs,” she said.
“It (harassment) always ruin my soul during the day, and at night I experience nightmares.”
“My husband left me with two small kids and 1 daughter. I polish people’s houses. But have to throw my daughter to the mouths of wolves to be able to stand on our feet,” Pari Gol, a mother from Herat said.
Muhammad Ishaq, a vendor in Herat says girl laborers face sexual harassment daily, and he has witnessed it many times. “One day when I was busy at my work, a small girl ran toward me screaming “Uncle, Save Me”.
Victims are afraid to report the crime
Jamal, an old man of 50, from Herat says her neighbor’s daughter was raped by some men after she was disappeared and came back after two days. “Her family never went to the officials for justice,” he said.
The officials at the Department of Work and Social Affairs of Herat confirmed the sexual abuses of ChildWorks in Herat. It said there are 11,500 child laborers in Herat, out of which 2/5 are girls.
Qayum Afghan, the director of the WSA department said the different abuses of girl laborers cases are concerning. He noted that the office provided jobs for 600 child laborers in 2020, and 1050 other children in 2021.
Officials at the Independent Human Rights Commission said the sexual harassment cases are low. Malika Rasuli, the Head of Children Unit of Human Rights Regional Commission said,” Eight months ago, several girls were collected from the streets and resided in an orphanage, and then discharged with the commitment of their families.”
She insisted that the Women’s affairs and Work and Social affairs departments are in charge of not letting these children go back to the streets for work.
Mirwaice Amini, Head of the Human Rights Commission in Herat said 8 boy laborers were sexually harassed and raped, but their families didn’t let the cases be officially issued.
“Over a number of interviewed the HRC of Herat conducted with some girls, the sexual harassment exist in Herat, but the cases have not yet been officially complained by the people,” Amini said.
Why the cases are not registered?
Some sociologists emphasizes that the Afghan patriarchal society used women as a way of sexual satisfaction in the past. Due to this, the current situation of female is devastating in the country.
Esmatullah Jahfari, a sociologist, believes that the Afghan government’s delinquency spiked the encouragement of those men to exploit the child laborers.
He added that the government must provide a safer workplace for girls so that they can go to school and also earn money.
“A sexual harassment experience that a woman bears, a man can never understand.”