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The Kabul kids aren't alright

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Kabul kidsBy Sue Turton

It's the kids that break your heart in Kabul.

Picking through rubbish dumps for something that might have a worth or scavenging for firewood to keep their family warm.

There are ragged youths at every roundabout here tapping on the car window begging for Afghanis or proffering tin cans of burning charcoal that promise to rid your car of evil spirits.

The daily violence does not discriminate between old and young and the numbers of children ripped apart by IEDs and suicide bombers gets ever higher.

If you're born in Afghanistan the odds are stacked against you from the day of your birth.

Mortality rates during child birth have improved but they're still amongst the highest in the world. One in every five don't make it to their fifth birthday.

If the conflict doesn't get you, the pneumonia, hypothermia, diarrhoea or tuberculosis just might. And that's just the physical side. One-quarter of all Afghan children are thought to have mental problems related to the trauma of war.

Comments made by Nato's top civilian envoy, Mark Sedwill, this week suggesting life was better for kids here than it was for those in London or Glasgow didn't reach Wazir Akba Khan where we live and work in central Kabul.

Hamid and Omed, who had been sifting through the huge pile of rubbish just round the corner from our bureau, said they weren't scared of anything. Apart from the soldiers that often threatened to beat them. They looked about 13-years-old. But everybody looks older than they are here.

I know the UK's inner cities. As a young reporter I covered stories from northern council estates to some of the harsher boroughs of central London. Some children in Britain live in squalid homes and face daily abuse. But they've slipped through the net of social services. There is no net in Afghanistan.

Mr Sedwill got one thing right. He said this was a family-orientated society.

As a nation the Afghans do look after one another. It's their religious duty to help those worse off. But we are talking about giving charity to those at risk of starving or freezing to death. Britain's inner cities can be tough but here it's about just staying alive not improving the quality of life.

For children, Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous countries in the world. London and Glasgow don't come close.

Sue Turton: Afghanistan Correspondent


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