Working tirelessly regardless of weather conditions, day or night, numerous children can be observed laboring on the Pak-Afghan Torkham border.
Situated a few kilometers away from Landi Kotal Bazar, these children from Afghanistan transport various goods, including cigarettes, Indian snuff, and soap, often risking their lives by hiding beneath large trucks, leading to unfortunate accidents.
Noor Khan’s Daily Struggle
Eight-year-old Noor Khan shares his daily routine, driven by poverty. Spending nights in Torkham, he engages in smuggling cigarettes and snuff from Afghanistan to Pakistan, enduring challenges for earnings ranging from one thousand to twelve hundred per cycle. Climbing under trucks or on top of containers, he rushes to deliver goods to their destination. Warehouses on both sides of the border facilitate the transfer of goods.
Farman Shinwari, former president of the labor union in Torkham, reveals that over 3,000 workers are involved in commercial activities on the border, with a staggering 70% being children. Stricter visa requirements imposed after security incidents have led to an increase in child labor, as older workers faced limitations.
Government’s Blind Spot on Child Labor
Imran Takkar, a children’s rights activist, highlights child labor’s prevalence in countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, emphasizing the lack of government data on the issue. The absence of recent surveys impedes the initiation of effective programs for out-of-school children. According to Takkar, NGOs estimate one crore (10 million) children engaged in labor in the country.
Ijaz Muhammad Khan, Chief of Child Protection and Welfare Commission Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, acknowledges ongoing efforts to combat child labor. He anticipates higher figures in the new survey due to expanded coverage, including areas excluded in the previous assessment.
Crystallizing Protection for Children
At the Torkham border, Customs and the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) report daily visa movements of 5,000 individuals, including over 3,000 children crossing illegally. They smuggle various items, posing a significant challenge.
Ijaz Muhammad Khan asserts the Commission’s awareness of the issues faced by child laborers at Torkham. Efforts are underway to protect children, with a crystallized framework involving international organizations such as the International Organization for Children and Refugees, the International Red Cross, the Afghan Commissionerate, the Afghan Consulate, and border authorities. The initiative aims to address not only sexual and physical abuse but also life-threatening situations. Some Afghan children have already been identified and reunited with their families in Afghanistan through collaborative efforts.