Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, November 19th, 2019

Urban Poor and Social Vulnerability in Afghanistan

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Urban Poor and Social Vulnerability in Afghanistan

Afghan children are at the bottom of the Afghan social pyramid, much like women and young girls for whom life has been a constant battle for survival. Child labor is a reality and a major social vulnerability in Afghanistan of today. The numbers of children who are working to feed themselves and their families have been growing in recent years due to the significant increase in population growth rates as well as creation of more job opportunities.

If the economic growth in Afghanistan in recent years has contributed to lifting of tens of thousands of families out of poverty, it has also contributed to the aggravation of a social phenomenon that has been with Afghanistan for long time. Child labor is today a major social challenge and the efforts of the Ministry of Social Affairs to deal with it have not had any meaningful impact on the severity of the problem.

The situation in Afghanistan in terms of number of children working as workmen and apprentices in vocational shops has been worsening. This is a major social vulnerability that it requires extensive efforts on the part of the government and the aid community to be contained.

There is no reliable statistics as to the numbers of Afghan children who have abandoned schools or have dropped out and have instead chosen to work to provide for self and family. The situation is worse for the lower strata of the society among those families who have the lowest income distribution in the society. Families with disabled or handicapped heads tend to be the largest cluster of families among whom working children can be found.

As the number of working children has soared throughout Afghanistan, so has the number of beggar children as well as those who resort to crime as a regular activity. Juvenile and children delinquency is on the rise and there seems to be no social or economic rehabilitation programs available in Afghanistan of today to help out these juveniles and children. Resorting to delinquency in these age categories, more than being borne out of a deep-seated mental disorder, is a deviation that can be much more easily dealt with and contained in comparison to adults

. In Afghanistan, today, there is absolutely no specialized institution where children and adolescents who are in need of counseling and helpful guidance from experts, can find comforting guidance. For a country that has emerged out of decades of civil war and social, economic and cultural chaos, availability of such specialized rehabilitation centers in a necessity. Unfortunately, the government has other priorities and this is nowhere to be seen on the priorities list of the government and the international community.

The way forward, of course, is to create access to such centers and make them available at least in larger cities and metros where, due social and cultural conditions, children and adolescents tend to much more exhibit such behavior. The situation in Afghanistan of today bears resemblance to other post-conflict societies in other countries where social reconstruction and rehabilitation were on par with other priorities such as political and economic reconstruction. In Afghanistan of today, while everybody talks about economic and political reconstruction, no body views social reconstruction as an absolute necessity that cannot be neglected.

What needs to be done in Afghanistan of today goes far beyond simple building of buildings. Rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of war-affected individuals who have lost mental health during years of civil war is another necessity. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other such mental health conditions need to be looked into thoroughly by Afghan as well as foreign experts and necessary clinical studies done. Eventually, the government needs to adopt this plan into a national strategic plan in order to deal with the appalling and deteriorating situation.

Afghanistan's unfolding social crisis is manifold and complex. As the plight of working Afghan children is on display, the equally deplorable condition of hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of urban poor goes unnoticed and unreported.

The urban poor and the structure of their social and cultural distribution in Afghanistan are changing. As Afghan cities and metros grow larger and a much larger and more broad-based middle class emerges, the familiar problem of shanty towns and ghettos on the fringes and margins of Afghan cities become more noticeable.

Almost certainly, in twenty years, the index of social and urban poverty and vulnerability in Afghanistan will increase phenomenally and exponentially. Afghanistan has to prepare itself for such as eventuality and the sooner the better. After all, the crisis will only worsen in the years to come and the government of Afghanistan and the international community need to vigilant against the prospect of a South Asian fate for Afghanistan's cities and people.

What is further a drag on the sporadic efforts done is lack of research and statistics to back up the sociall enterprise needed to contain the extent of the vulnerabilities. The Central Statistical Office does not concern itself with such other issues. The Ministry of Social Affairs as the concerned line department does not have a clear and serious plan to act and the foreign and Afghan aid community are undertaking sporadic and uncoordinated measures that overall will have negligible impact on the situation.

We cannot expect the economic growth alone will enable Afghanistan deal with the multitude of social and urban vulnerabilities of its people. Economic growth based on such a model currently in practice in Afghanistan will only accentuate economic disparities and the social income divides.

This has happened on numerous other countries and there is every reason to believe that the same would befall Afghanistan. This redoubles the extent and depth of the problem. This should be further extrapolated with the fact that Afghanistan is undergoing a phenomenal rise in population. These factors all make it a ticking time bomb. These are real and serious issues that the government and the international community need to be vigilant against and deal with. Afghanistan's urban crisis and vulnerabilities have to be checked and dealt with.

The author is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlook afghanistan@gmail.com

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