Eight-year-old shoeshiner disguises as a boy to survive


BALKH: An eight-year-old boy, Tamim, polishes visitors’ shoes at Hazrat Ali’s Shrine in Mazar-i-Sharif city to feed his family, but his gestures and voice tone differ from that of other boys of the same age, resembling more of a girl.

Tamim, a girl, disguised as a boy, reluctantly opens up to an Afghan Peace Watch (APW) reporter and shares her tragic life story. With tears rolling down her cheeks, Tamim said her real name is Forozan. “I adopted this new identity and appearance after I lost my father two and a half years ago when he used to serve in the Afghan army against the Taliban.”

“My grandmother gave me this new identity as a boy and named me Tamim,” said Forozan in anguish, adding, “because boys are less vulnerable than girls and can work without any risk.”

Following her uncle’s job loss after the previous government collapsed and when her grandmother could no longer work due to joint pains, the onus was on Forozan to take responsibility at such a minor age and provide for her family.

Forozan, having her head shaved, returned home with 180 Afghanis she received through begging on the first two days of working as Tamim. On the third day, she bought herself shoe polish and brushes with the money earned and began polishing visitors’ shoes at the shrine.

“It has been six months since I began working with my new identity, and I am happy because sometimes I earn around 200 AFN and can purchase bread for my family every night,” said Forozan, who has a sister and brother aged four and five respectively.

Having no choice but to work to feed her family, Forozan wishes to return to her original identity and pursue her dreams of education; however, it is uncertain how many months or years she will take to achieve her goals.

In addition to Forozan or rather Tamim, who is eight years old, the humanitarian and unemployment crises in the country have resulted in hundreds of other children being engaged in all kinds of hard work, and each of these children has a different and more bitter story in their lives.