Afghanistan six months on: Children on the edge of life

Save the Children are releasing a powerful series of photographs to highlight the human tragedy unfolding in the country six months since the dramatic transition of power

Simon Edmunds
Wednesday 23 February 2022 14:12
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<p>Delagha*, 50: “I cannot afford to get separate heaters for my daughters and sons. This is only one heater, and we all surround it.” </p>

Delagha*, 50: “I cannot afford to get separate heaters for my daughters and sons. This is only one heater, and we all surround it.”

Photographer Jim Huylebroek joined up with Save the Children to travel across Afghanistan – from the drought-ravaged plains of the north to the freezing streets of Kabul – capturing the stories of children whose lives have been devastated by the humanitarian crisis in a series titled Children on the Edge of Life.

The images tell the stories of their fight for survival. Families making impossible decisions about which child they can afford to feed, and which will go hungry; mothers giving birth alone on dirt floors because they cannot afford to travel to hospital, and children forced to work on the streets to put food on the table.

In the north of Afghanistan, Laalah*, 12, lives with her mother and four siblings in a tent, built with tarpaulin sheets in the basement of a half-constructed building. Her father, Maalek*, 40, struggles to find work as a labourer, and sometimes has no choice but to send his sons to find rubbish to sell or burn to keep their home warm.

Laalah* 12, sits with her siblings Faakhir*, 1, Aabhas*, 10, Aabid* 7, Cachi*, 5, outside their home in Balkh province

Aabhas*, 10, fled the conflict in Faryab with their father Maalek* and the rest of their family

Laalah*, aged 12, walks up the stairs with her baby brother Faakhir* 1, in her home

“Whenever kids are free from school they go out and collect rubbish. They go onto the streets and collect and sell cans so they can afford their school expenses or food,” Maalek said. “My dream is to find somewhere, to build a place for them. To be able to build a house to live in so that they can stop being homeless like this.”

Nearly 5 million children stand on the brink of starvation as the country faces its worst food crisis since records began. The impacts of drought, conflict and economic collapse have pushed many families into dangerous territory. They sell what little they have to buy food, send their children to work or get by on bread alone. “I hope there are schools in the future,” Laalah said. “I want to go to school, to be either a teacher or doctor. I want our living to be good, to eat good food.”

Mohammad* and his wife Gulalai*, 25, (not pictured) have six children aged between 1 day and 6 years old. The family survive on just bread alone most days

Gulalai’s daughter, Harija*, 6 outside their home

Mohammad* and his wife Gulalai’s* one-year-old son, Ninangyali*, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition

The withdrawal of aid and the freezing of financial assets has pushed Afghanistan’s public services to the brink of collapse. Hospitals across the country have been forced to close as wages for healthcare workers have dried up. Desperately sick children are being turned away as there are no medicines to treat them, and, where they are available, soaring prices mean they are unaffordable for many.

In Kabul, Arzoo*, 12, the oldest of seven children in her family, hasn’t been to school all winter because they are closed. Her father hasn’t been able to work for months, and most days they just eat bread because they can’t afford anything else. Arzoo’s parents and 18-month-old brother are ill, but the family can’t afford to go to the doctor. She said: “Now there is no job for my father to do and bring food home. One day we have food and the next day we don’t.”

Arzoo* 12, with her siblings at home

Most days Arzoo’s* family just eat bread because they cannot afford anything else

Arzoo’s* siblings. Kamal* 5 , Aziz* 4 , Damsa* 3, Hadyah* 6

Arzoo’s mother, Ferisha*, 36, said: “There is absolutely no work. People are desperate for food; there is nothing.” When asked about the future for her children she said: “My hope is that they study and make progress; one can only have this hope.”

3-year-old Samira* and her grandfather. Samira was previously given treatment for malnutrition and pneumonia by Save the Children, and has fully recovered

Afzal*, 13: "We don’t have money. There is nothing to make us happy"

Streets in Kabul

Save the Children is distributing cash, winter clothes and fuel to families in some of the hardest-hit areas to help them stay warm and fed through the bitter winter. Cash assistance helps to prevent families from resorting to desperate measures that adversely affect children such as child labour, early marriage and reduced meals.

You can find more information about Save the Children’s Afghanistan crisis appeal here

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