Twelve-year-old Nabila hauls bricks 10 hours each day. She’s worked in brick factories half her life. The number of children like Nabila working in Afghanistan is growing, fueled by the country’s economic collapse.
In May 2021, U.S. and other military forces left Afghanistan. Soon, the Taliban re-claimed control of the country. The world responded by cutting off financial aid to Afghanistan.
Since then, life has worsened for many Afghans. Save the Children estimates that half of Afghanistan’s families have put children to work to help feed everyone.
Nowhere is the misery of the situation clearer than in the brick factories north of Kabul.
Conditions in the furnaces are tough even for adults. But in almost all of them, children as young as four or five labor alongside their families from early morning until dark.
Children perform every step of the brickmaking process. They haul water, carry wooden molds full of mud, and push wheelbarrows of bricks to and from the kiln. They pick through smoldering charcoal for usable pieces, inhaling soot and scorching their fingers.
Workers get the equivalent of $4 for every 1,000 bricks they make. One adult can’t do that amount in a day. But a family can make 1,500 bricks daily.
The children know little but their families’ needs. When asked about toys or play, they smile and shrug. Only a few have been to school.
Like many other workers, Nabila’s family works part of the year at a kiln near Kabul, the other part at one outside Jalalabad, near the Pakistani border.
A few years ago, Nabila attended school briefly. She’d like to go back but says, “We can’t think about anything else but work.”
Jesus often commends hard work. (Colossians 3:23) But He also loves children. It’s hard to imagine He would support the working conditions like those of these child brickmakers.
One recent day in Afghanistan, a light rain started. Dust coated the children’s faces. Some children couldn’t open their eyes. But they kept working. The rain soon became a downpour.
One boy had mud pouring off him, but he insisted he couldn’t take shelter without finishing his work.
“We’re used to it,” he said. Then he told another boy, “Hurry up, let’s finish.”
Rahim, who goes by one name, has three children who work with him at a brick kiln. Even before the Taliban came to power, Rahim says he had no choice but to take them out of school.
“How can they study when we don’t have bread to eat?” he says. “Survival is more important.”
Why? Stories like this affect us just as Jesus was often moved with compassion for the weary, lost, sad, or hungry. “When He saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)