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Q&A: Saboor Bidar, How Video Can Help End Child Labor in Afghanistan

Q&A: Saboor Bidar, How Video Can Help End Child Labor in Afghanistan
In Kabul, children are employed for tasks usually done by adults. Photo by Saboor Bidar.

Saboor Bidar is a Storyhunter from Afghanistan who has begun a multimedia project with the goal of ending child labor in his home country. This is an issue close to his heart, because Saboor was once a child laborer himself. In 2007, the government of Afghanistan passed a law against employing minors, but child labor is still prevalent. Saboor wants to expose this continuing practice and promote change. He’s launched a crowdfunding campaign to help his efforts (click here to support his campaign).

Storyhunter: Tell us about your childhood. How old were you when you started working?

SB: I was a child laborer in Pakistan from ages 6 to 12. In 1992, during the Afghan Civil War, my parents immigrated to Pakistan in order to save our lives. Our life in Kabul before the civil war had been great. My parents were teachers. Everything was perfect until we lost our home to rockets. My parents lost everything they had in life, so they left Afghanistan. At the age of 6, I was selling plastic bags at the fruit and vegetable market in Islamabad, Pakistan. My hands became rough, like an old man. When I turned 8, I started working for a carpet factory weaving carpets, working from 4:00am to 6:00pm. After many years passed, my parents realized that I should go to school. In the morning I went to school, and in the afternoon I worked in the carpet factory.

When I graduated from school, I could not afford to go to college. I started working as a cleaner at the Institute of Media Sciences, in Islamabad. Sometimes, I stood outside the classrooms and listened to what the teachers taught the students. I was trying to learn something. A graphic design teacher allowed me to sit in on his last class after I had finished my daily tasks.

SH: What motivated you to start a media campaign against child labor?

SB: It’s estimated that a quarter of children in Afghanistan work (source). So many of them get hired by mafia groups for drug trafficking and many other illegal practices. They are usually harassed mentally and physically and are sexually abused by the employers. These children do not have anything resembling childhood innocence. Violence and aggression is apparent from young ages. Unfortunately, this phenomenon is as a cancer spreading through the body of Afghanistan. This is because of lack of knowledge about children rights and the bad outcomes of their children working in streets and not going to school.

As a child laborer myself, I know how hard it is to rise above the condition. I can feel their suffering more than anyone else. Now that I feel proud of what I have achieved: if I can change my life, I can change my society, too. I am committed to do something for the Afghan children with the skills and abilities I have.

Saboor shoots footage of a young child cleaning a car in Kabul.

SH: How is child labor viewed in Afghanistan?

SB: Children are considered the new generation of Afghanistan and form more than 36% of the population. They are encouraged to join extremists and radical Madrasas in Afghan Pakistan borders as child laborers. The Taliban uses them for many purposes, from suicide bombing to carrying explosives inside cities. They are being brainwashed from childhood inside Madrasas and camps until they become adult terrorists.

Poverty is only one of the factors in the child labor issue. It is the responsibility of their parents to feed and send their children to school. My parents decided that they would eat half the bread, not the whole in order to send me to school. They decided not to let me go to work anymore. Parents have to make the choice not to let their children become laborers.

SH: Tell us more about your plans for the campaign.

SB: I will be attending a Media Campaign Course in Netherlands. Any media skills I have are self-taught, so I need professional training. Through this, I will get a credible certificate from RNTC that will help me get funding from NGOs and Institutions. I will start producing short documentary videos to educate parents and children about child rights. Then, I will campaign for the government to take serious action against the child abuse. We will arrange events in schools to address this issue and make this community (team standing against child abuse in Afghanistan) bigger. To budget, I will only produce short videos and use social media to reach my target audience. But I am sure that I will collect enough money to run this project.

SH: Is it hard to live as a freelance video producer in Afghanistan? What are the challenges and difficulties?

SB: There are many problems for journalists here. They are always pressured by the government and the anti-government armed groups. But the journalism community in Afghanistan works hard and they are committed to fight against every challenge. As a freelancer, it’s very difficult to get your camera and go outside to filming or shoot photos. I have noticed that it’s easier as a foreigner to go outside and film than as a local. I have to get permission from the Kabul Interior Ministry and the police station of the area I’d like to shoot in.

In a recent video I produced for Discovery Digital Networks, Kabul Boys Parkour, there is a scene in which a police officer is preventing the boys doing parkour, and blocking me from filming. At first, he grabbed my camera and wanted to get the memory card. Fortunately, I got my camera back and still hit the record button. But we always run the risk of getting beaten or placed in lockup.

SH: What are some stories that you’ve worked on?

SB: A project that gave me lots of energy and confidence was working with Storyhunter, producing a short video about the 4th Annual Ski Challenge in Bamiyan Province. Another project for Discovery Digital Networks was a short documentary about the Afghan Bruce Lee. This time I had enough knowledge to produce the video myself. Most recently, I produced a short documentary about Kabul Boys Parkour for Discovery Digital Networks through Storyhunter. I notice a great improvement in my work since I have started working through Storyhunter. And I am very thankful and happy.

Saboor shoots footage for his “Parkour on Afghanistan’s War Ruins” video for Discovery Digital Networks.

You can support Saboor’s fundraising campaign by donating here.