Afghanistan's Future Is Freezing, Tired and in Need of Help: The Ticker

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By Katherine Brown

Afghans under the age of five are literally freezing to death from an especially harsh winter, the coldest in two decades. In camps set up in Kabul for Afghans fleeing the volatile south, at least 22 children have died. The families would rather stay in the camps with no heat or electricity than return to the warmer yet dangerous territory they left behind.

Then there is the harsh economy. On Tuesday, the International Labor Organization reported that children as young as 5 years old contribute to an enormous underage labor market in eastern Afghanistan. They are essentially doing the dirty work of brick-making to pay off their families' debts. It may be better than being an "opium bride," described by journalist Fariba Nawa in her new book, "Opium Nation." Farmers wanting a cut of Afghanistan's $1.4 billion opium business borrow money for supplies from drug traffickers, and some end up paying back the traffickers with their daughters instead of cash.

It's not all bad news. There are 8 million children enrolled in school, 2.4 million of whom are girls -- a stark improvement since 2001. Ninety percent of children have been inoculated against polio and child mortality rates have dropped. Western non-governmental organizations and groups like the U.S. Agency for International Development have scores of programs to provide training, health care and other services to young Afghans.

The coming troop withdrawal in 2014 has attracted most of the headlines. But even after the troops leave, bilateral aid programs and a network of NGOs will remain in Afghanistan to try to build on this progress.

The West has invested a decade into the country -- and during that time, millions of Afghans have been born and come of age: More than two-thirds of Afghanistan's population of 34 million is under the age of 30. As the U.S. prepares to leave Afghanistan, we should also remember those who will lead Afghanistan next.

(Katherine Brown is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial staff.)

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-0- Feb/10/2012 17:49 GMT