One year since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, an economic crisis, crippling drought, and new restrictions have shattered girls’ lives, excluding them from society and leaving them hungry, with a quarter showing signs of depression, according to a new report by Save the Children.
The report, titled Breaking point: Life for children one year since the Taliban takeover, shows that 97% of families are struggling to provide enough food for their children and that girls are eating less than boys.
Almost 80% of children said they had gone to bed hungry in the past 30 days. In addition, girls were almost twice as likely as boys to frequently go to bed hungry.
A lack of food is having devastating consequences on children’s health and threatening their future. Nine in 10 girls said their meals had reduced in the past year and that they worry because they’re losing weight and have no energy to study, play and work.
According to UNICEF, 3.7 million children in Afghanistan are deprived of education because of insecurity, violence, natural disasters, and poverty.
A U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report detailing a hunger crisis along with increasing restrictions to women’s rights under the Taliban, says almost 19 million people in Afghanistan will encounter “potentially life-threatening levels of hunger” from June to November of this year, while 6 million people will be under “near-famine conditions.”
The lack of food will leave 1.1 million children at risk of death due to malnourishment if they do not receive more help.
The crisis is also taking a dangerous toll on girls’ mental and psychosocial wellbeing. According to interviews with their caregivers, 26% of girls are showing signs of depression compared with 16% of boys, and 27% of girls are showing signs of anxiety compared with 18% of boys.
Girls in focus groups said they had trouble sleeping at night because they were worried and have bad dreams. They also said they had been excluded from many of the activities that previously made them happy, such as spending time with relatives and friends and going to parks and shops.
After the Taliban’s takeover last August, thousands of secondary school girls were ordered to stay home, reversing years of progress for gender equality.
Girls interviewed by Save the Children expressed disappointment and anger over the fact they can no longer go to school and said they felt hopeless about their future because they don’t have the rights and freedoms they had previously.
More than 45% of girls said they’re not attending school – compared with 20% of boys – listing economic challenges, the Taliban’s ban on girls attending secondary school classes as well as community attitudes as the key barriers preventing them from accessing education.
Parishad*, 15, lives in northern Afghanistan and doesn’t go to school because her parents cannot afford to feed their children, let alone pay for her books and stationery. Her family’s situation has rapidly deteriorated in the past 12 months, and they were evicted from their home because they couldn’t pay the rent. The landlord offered to buy one of Parishad’s siblings, but her parents refused.
“Some days, my father cannot bring food. My brothers wake up at midnight and cry for food. I don’t eat; I save my food for my brothers and sisters. When my brothers and sisters ask for food, I get upset and cry a lot. I go to my neighbor’s house and ask for food. Sometimes they’ll help and give me food, and sometimes they say they don’t have anything to give me,” Parishad said.
“When we left our old house to come to this house, I was deeply upset, and I said, ‘why are we leaving again? Why are we facing these problems again?’ I was deeply angry, and it was a very difficult time, and I cried.
“I would love to go to school. When I see other girls going to school, I wish I could go to school too. But, every month we change houses, and it’s difficult for us to go to school. We also don’t have any stationery, and we need money to buy books. I can’t tolerate it. I can’t do anything about it.”
Following the withdrawal of international forces last year, the Taliban took power on 15 August. As a result, billions of dollars in international aid were withdrawn, Afghanistan’s foreign currency reserves were frozen, and the banking system collapsed. The subsequent economic crisis and the country’s worst drought in 30 years have plunged households into poverty.
Children interviewed by Save the Children said the economic situation – leaving households without enough to eat and without basic items – was driving an increase in child marriages in their communities and that this was impacting girls more than boys. Out of the children who said they’d been asked to marry to improve their family’s financial situation in the past year, 88% were girls.
Chris Nyamandi, Save the Children Country Director in Afghanistan, said:
“Life is dire for children in Afghanistan, one year since the Taliban took control. Children are going to bed hungry night after night. They’re exhausted and wasting away, unable to play and study like they used to. They’re spending their days toiling in brick factories, collecting rubbish, and cleaning homes instead of going to school.
“Girls are bearing the brunt of the deteriorating situation. They’re missing more meals, suffering from isolation and emotional distress, and are staying home while boys go to school. This is a humanitarian crisis, but also a child rights catastrophe.
“The solution cannot be found in Afghanistan alone. The solution lies in the corridors of power and in the offices of our global political leaders. If they don’t provide immediate humanitarian funding and find a way to revive the banking system and support the spiraling economy, children’s lives will be lost, and more boys and girls will lose their childhoods to labor, marriage, and rights violations.”
Parishad also has a message for the international community: “Help my family – and the most vulnerable children and families – with money and food. I want my brothers and sisters to be eating good food and have shoes to wear, and for my brother to have good clothes to wear. Please help us so we can educate ourselves.”
Save the Children has worked in Afghanistan since 1976, including during periods of conflict, regime change, and natural disasters. We have programs in nine provinces and work with partners in an additional six provinces.
Since the Taliban regained control in August 2021, we’ve been scaling up our response to support the increasing number of children in need. We’re delivering health, nutrition, education, child protection, shelter, water, sanitation and hygiene, and food security and livelihoods support. As a result, Save the Children has reached more than 2.5 million people, including 1.4 million children, since September 2021.
*Names changed to protect identities