In Afghanistan being a child is a full-time job
Child labor is endemic in Afghanistan despite vague laws that prohibit children under 14 from working full time
An Afghan child pushes a wheel burrow at a brick factory in the outskirts of Herat (Picture: AFP Photo/Aref KARIMI)
Sami Rahimi sleeps fitfully on a bread rack above the cold concrete floor of a bakery. He rises at 5am, sweeps up, washes in a pan of chilly water, then prays.
Before the sun has risen, Sami is pushing a dented wheelbarrow through the dim streets, at 13 still a tiny figure among the vegetable hawkers and butchers slicing bloody flanks of sheep from carcasses hung on hooks. He gathers water from a public well and takes it back to the bakery.
By 6am, the gas-fired stone kiln is glowing a fiery red. Dough is flung against its curved walls to bake into the flat loaves known as khasa and the round loaves called kamachi. The sweet aroma of fresh bread wafts through the cramped storefront.
Sami sweeps a platform where hot flatbread is stacked for sale. He then sits cross-legged to begin the long hours of selling each loaf for 10 afghanis, about 20 New Zealand cents, to customers who thrust worn bills through a window that he opens and closes with a long metal hook.
Working until dark six days a week, Sami earns about US$80 a month, enough to support his entire family: disabled father, mother, three brothers and five sisters.
Sami has been at the bakery since he was 10, when he rode a bus here from the northern countryside to assist his uncle, Yar Mohammed, the bakery owner, who himself began working at age 8.
"I'm happy I can support my family, but I would rather go to school and be an educated person," Sami says. He shrugs as he flips over a steaming loaf with his hook, a weary gesture that makes him seem old and careworn. He is the only person in his family with a job.
The work bores him, and he stares out the smeared glass window daydreaming of a better future: graduating from a university and becoming a teacher or engineer, a learned man, not a barely literate little boy peddling bread.
Full Story: In Afghanistan, childhood a full-time job
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