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More Afghan children risk illegal work in Europe - UNICEF

UNICEF said Wednesday it feared the intensification of fighting in Afghanistan under the new anti-Taliban strategy could drive more families to send their children to work illegally in Europe.

“We are fearful that we may see an additional increase in the number of children who are seeking to go out of the country,” Daniel Toole, South Asia regional director for the UN Children’s Fund, told reporters.

In 2009, the agency observed a “very significant” increase in the number of Afghan children who went on their own to Europe, he said, without giving figures.

Under the new US strategy aimed at stepping up the fight against the Taliban, US, NATO and Afghan troops last month launched a major offensive in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the biggest operation since the toppling of the Islamist militia in 2001.

US forces have already begun operations on a similar offensive in neighbouring Kandahar province, the spiritual heartland of the Taliban, the commander of US and NATO troops in Afghanistan said on Wednesday.

“These unaccompanied minors have ended in UK and Norway” mainly for economic reasons, said Toole during a visit to Kabul.

“Most of the families sending children are not (doing it) because they don’t want the children, or not because of education, it’s because of the potential economic return that they believe will happen if the child is working in the UK, France or Norway,” he said.

“When families are disrupted, when their livelihoods are disrupted, they seek more and more desperate means of finding livelihoods,” he said.

Toole said efforts would be made to stem the problem, which “is surfacing now”.

Toole, who met President Hamid Karzai during his stay, said the Afghan government was “very, very worried” about the problem.

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