KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A leading international rights group said Thursday that an estimated quarter of all Afghan children work for a living yet the government fails to protect them from injury, death or exploitation.
Human Rights Watch said children in Afghanistan work long hours for little or no pay, in labor-intensive industries, including carpet-weaving, brick-making, mining, metal work and farming.
Many are forced to leave school early and are driven to hazardous work by extreme poverty, according to a report released by the New York-based group.
HRW noted that Afghanistan's labor law bans children under 14 from work and that Afghanistan has ratified international treaties on child labor.
Still, Afghan authorities are failing to protect "tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions," the report said.
HRW said 25 percent of Afghan children aged between 5 and 14 years work, as do 22 percent of those aged between 12 and 14 years. The report also cited a 2013 survey by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission that puts "the number of children working 'in one way or another' at 52 percent."
"Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table," said Phelim Kine, the HRW deputy Asia director.
In 2014, the Afghan government listed 19 hazardous occupations banned for children but has "failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators" and has had no strategy for ending exploitative labor practices, HRW said.
It called on Kabul to abide by its legal obligations to end child labor, and on the country's foreign backers "to take urgent steps to protect children" in Afghanistan from dangerous working conditions.