Right to Employment in Afghanistan

Decades of armed conflict, invasion, and oppression between 1978 and 2001 left a once vibrant Afghan civil society devastated, driving civil society activists and advocates underground.


            The successive armed conflicts and massive human rights violations have killed at least 1.5 million Afghans and rendered 6 million homeless. Even prior to 11 September, the Afghan population suffered severe destitution and hardship: a ruined infrastructure, abysmal socio-economic indicators, the world’s largest population of refugees and internally displaced persons, the world’s highest concentration of land mines, three years of worsening drought, a repressive government and international isolation marked by economic sanctions.


           With the fall of the Taliban in 2001 in Afghanistan in the shadow of war on terror that resulted in the signing of Bonn Peace Agreement, we regained our position on the international political scene and saw a huge involvement of the international community in our country, which is seen by almost all Afghans as an opportunity to rebuild this country.


a. The Right of Association

The Bonn Agreement revived the 1964 Constitution's broad provisions for protection of workers and a mixture of labor laws from earlier periods; however, little is known about labor laws, their enforcement, or practices. Labor rights were not defined beyond the Ministry of Labor, and, in the context of the breakdown of governmental authority, there was no effective central authority to enforce them. The only large employers in Kabul were the governmental structure of minimally functioning ministries and local and international NGOs.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Current law is not fully in compliance with internationally recognized workers rights to form free trade unions. The country lacks a tradition of genuine labor-management bargaining. There were no known labor courts or other mechanisms for resolving labor disputes. Wages were determined by market forces, or, in the case of government workers, dictated by the Government.

There were no reports of labor rallies or strikes.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor

The 1964 Constitution, in effect under the Bonn Agreement, prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children; however, little information was available regarding forced or compulsory labor.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

According to labor laws, children under the age of 15 were not allowed to work more than 30 hours per week. However, there was no evidence that authorities in any part of the country enforced labor laws relating to the employment of children. Children from the age of 6 often worked to help support their families by herding animals in rural areas and by collecting paper and firewood, shining shoes, begging, or collecting scrap metal among street debris in the cities. Some of these practices exposed children to the danger of landmines.

However, according to the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the country followed ILO standards regarding child labor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

According to labor laws, the average workweek for laborers was 40 hours. However, there was no available information regarding a statutory minimum wage or maximum workweek, or the enforcement of safe labor practices. Many workers apparently were allotted time off regularly for prayers and observance of religious holidays. Most persons worked in the informal sector.

Right to employment prospects will be dependent on the emergence of security both nationally and within the region and the development of a legitimate system of governance. If these two preconditions for transforming the war economy into a peace economy are not achieved, there will be limits to the growth in the rural economy and industrial and service sectors.

The right to employment is guaranteed under the 2002 constitution, and the approval of these rights in the current constitution of Afghanistan has pleased the Afghan people.

Article 48  [Work]
(1) Work is the right of every Afghan.
(2) Working hours, paid holidays, right of employment and employee, and other related affairs are regulated by law.
(3) Choice of occupation and craft is free within the limits of law.
Article 49  [Forced Labor]
(1) Forced labor is forbidden.
(2) Active participation, in times of war, calamity, and other situations threatening lives and public welfare is one of the primary duties of every Afghan.
(3) Children shall not be subjected to forced labor.

Afghanistan has ratified 15 of the International Labour Conventions, among them three of the eight basic human rights conventions, namely C. 100 Equal Remuneration Convention, 1951, C. 105 Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 and C. 111 Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958.  The issue remains that it was a different Afghanistan which did so, and that the war has left nobody among the de facto authorities with a sense of responsibility towards this international commitment. The Committee of Experts repeatedly requested the Afghanistan government in the past to reply on non-compliance with ratified conventions, including the core conventions, but to date it appears that no reply has been provided. Currently there is no case before the Committee.

As far as I know, the key issues fundamental to reconstruction of employment processes are the necessity for an understanding of the strong interconnections between conflict, governance, society and the economy, the need for historical analysis because of strong continuities with the past, the requirement to view Afghanistan's position as part of a regional conflict and recognition that past international engagement in the country has contributed to the present situation. The nature of the Afghan State is a central issue, but it must be appreciated that the conflict has not been about breakdown but rather about profound transformations and change.

Global Rights-Partners for Justice for the Afghan Law Students (2005), drawn up by the GR in cooperation with the Kabul University, has provided employment in one of the key sectors requiring attention. It stresses that the objectives of the strategies under this sector should be to: “create employment opportunities for Afghan Law Internship graduate Students in the Law Clinic Program this employment departure can overcome a part of the unemployment for educated law students.” 

I think Afghanistan employment creation will play a major role in contributing to the socio-economic transition required to orientate Afghan society and the economy towards peace. However in building employment, rural-based activities will have a key place in this; the nature of diversified livelihood strategies must be recognized.

To my knowledge, the challenges of reconstruction of employment are enormous, and peace will not come easily. Identifying and adhering to key principles of engagement will be crucial for external agencies. These should include: investing in both short- and long-term strategies to build quick gains but developing longer-term processes; seeking multiple points of entry at both micro and macro levels to build household assets, reduce vulnerability and build institutions; being aware of the underlying causes of conflict at all levels and seeking to address them; recognizing that there will be those who will gain and those who will lose from the processes of transition and that the needs of both must be addressed; and emphasizing the building of capacities and the building of understanding and analysis of the context at all levels.

As I mentioned the employment challenges are enormous, but their tackling is essential for long-term peace building and poverty reduction. The very high unemployment rate, a quarter of the labour force, has to be solved through targeted measures within a comprehensive framework and as an integral feature of the post-crisis reconstruction and development effort.


Sareer Ahmad Sayes

Program Manager

Global Rights-partners for justice

(formerly International Human Rights Law Group)

Cell: +93- 70 27 80 74



Sources: The Bonn Agreement - 1964 Constitution's - 2002 Constitution’s.