Anwar* 12, spends the day washing cars in the street.
He gives all the money he earns – the equivalent of less than $2 a day – to his mother to help support the family.
Fahima* is a year older and sells little cacao sweets for six or seven hours a day.
I ask her if she gets tired. No, she tells me: she is strong.
A trafficked child
Mirwais* came to the city to escape beatings at home.
Here he was trafficked and made to work excruciatingly long hours in a hotel, completely alone and vulnerable to other types of exploitation.
I’m in Kabul, Afghanistan and these children’s stories are far from unusual.
Sitting in the small room of the shelter where Mirwais* now lives, I feel very far from home.
Heading in the opposite direction
At the airport on my way out, a woman at the check-in desk asked me, “Aren’t you going the wrong way?”
Above us, big screens were showing the British troops returning. A 13-year conflict is over. Soon, perhaps, Afghanistan will slip from the news.
So why have I chosen to come to Kabul? I wanted to see for myself what life is like for children here, behind the headlines of war and insurgency.
A fragile hope
With a new president finally elected, there is a chance for child rights-based organisations to influence what the future will be for children here. It’s a fragile hope.
There is certainly a great deal of work to be done.
Only half of all children in Afghanistan are in school; many must work to support their families.
The children I spoke to dream of becoming doctors, teachers or engineers. But without access to education their dreams are unlikely to be realised.
Save the Children fights for children’s rights
Working closely with local communities, religious leaders, parents, teachers and the government, Save the Children helps to prevent child abuse, exploitation and violence, and respond when it happens.
We work with schools and families to raise awareness of positive discipline methods.
But we are also calling on government, community leaders and parents to recognise children’s universal rights, including the right to receive an education, to play, and to be protected from all forms of violence.
Children’s voices must be heard
With a new president and the withdrawal of foreign troops, Afghanistan stands at a crossroads.
Amid the noise of international politics and domestic reconstruction, children’s voices could easily go unheard. We must not let that happen.
The war here may be coming to an end, for the UK at least, but for Afghanistan’s children, a different fight must go on – the fight for children’s rights.
*Names have been changed to protect identities