A displaced family from Afghanistan. Source: UN News
Afghanistan has been making headlines over the past few decades, most recently with the withdrawal of US troops in 2021, and many Afghani children have been left vulnerable. They are considered to be extremely at risk, a dangerous reality amidst high rates of poverty and child mortality in the country.
Bahaudin Mujtaba on the right with Noman Mujtaba on the left. Source: NBC News
Bahaudin Mujtaba and his wife Lisa were one of the families impacted by the slow adoption process out of Afghanistan. Mujtaba worked on being able to adopt a distant relative of his, 10-year-old Noman Mujtaba, for five years. Noman’s mother passed away from cancer and his brothers and father were not able to care for him. Noman also has health concerns, which his family has noted.
An Afghan girl attending school. Source: UNICEF USA
Afghanistan’s social climate is largely affected by the widespread effects of poverty on the populace. Around 15 million people are living below the poverty line in Afghanistan, which is about half of the population. Poverty restricts access to education; only 60 percent of children are able to go to school and barely 30 percent of adults are literate. There are other disparities when looking at education equity. According to UNICEF, the rates of school attendance indicate that girls are less likely to attend school during their formative years, dropping out of primary school at higher rates.
There are other risks that young Afghani’s encounter, including the exploitation of child labour. Roughly 20 percent of children in Afghanistan are working in some capacity, helping to provide for their households by working as water carriers, shoe polishers, domestic servants, and street vendors, for example. Based on economic insecurity, many families struggle to provide for their children, especially for their health. Afghanistan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world, with some of the main causes of death being related to diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition.
Major events that have made news regarding the turmoil in the country include the Soviet-Afghan war, which lasted from 1979 to 1989, and later on, the U.S engaging in a war with Afghanistan for nearly two decades, from 2001 until August 2021. Thousands of Afghans, including children, evacuated the country with the departure of U.S. armed forces. Out of 5,000 refugees, 1,500 were children, and 400 of those children were orphans. The National Child Protection Task Force has been working to relocate these 400 refugee orphans. Much of the organization’s work has concentrated on finding the refugees a permanent home, as well as providing support for employment opportunities.
The government does not allow non-Muslim parents to adopt Afghan orphans, which is another barrier to adoption. NBC News reported that American families only adopted 41 children from Afghanistan from 1999 to 2019, as reported by the U.S State Department.
It took Noman two days to reach Kabul’s airport alongside another family after they had been turned away by the Taliban the first day. He and the other family then spent three days waiting to board a plane. His journey to where his adoptive parents lived took days, as the plane made a stop in Qatar and then Germany before heading to Washington D.C. There, he was reunited with Bahaudin before they made the trip to their home in Florida.
Given that there are various circumstances affecting the well-being of children, it is crucial for there to be increased social support of refugee and orphan children. One of the ways the public can assist is through volunteering with services ranging from picking up individuals to apartment set-ups, as well as donating basic needs items and clothing. Organizations that have been working on helping out include the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), as they have focused on connecting volunteers to much-needed services, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has helped distribute cash and food.
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“Afghanistan - Education Equity Profile for Adolescent Girls.” UNICEF, December 20, 2019. https://www.unicef.org/rosa/sites/unicef.org.rosa/files/2020-02/UNICEF_ROSA_Country_Profile_Afghanistan_20Dec2019_Web.pdf.
O'Neill, Aaron. “Countries with the Highest Infant Mortality Rate 2021.” Statista, April 15, 2021. https://www.statista.com/statistics/264714/countries-with-the-highest-infant-mortality-rate/.
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Thompson, Anne, and Elizabeth Chuck. “A Florida Couple's Agonizing Wait to Adopt an Afghan Boy Takes on New Urgency.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, August 19, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/florida-couple-s-agonizing-wait-adopt-afghan-boy-takes-new-n1277169.
Kallingal, Mallika. “Boy from Afghanistan Is Finally Home with His New Family in Florida.” CNN. Cable News Network, September 26, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/26/us/afghanistan-boy-florida-adoption/index.html.
“Help Afghan Refugees and Allies: 5 Ways to Make a Difference Today.” LIRS, August 10, 2021. https://www.lirs.org/help-our-afghan-allies/.
“Help Families in Afghanistan and Worldwide.” International Rescue Committee, n.d. https://help.rescue-uk.org/afghanistan-donate?ms=ws_country_afghanistan&initialms=ws_country_afghanistan.