HERAT, Afghanistan- The gaggle of girls outside a school in Herat are all about the same age, but one of them sticks out.
Fatima, eight, isn’t wearing a neat black and white uniform, or laughing and playing with classmates.
She is hard at work, selling ice creams to the other girls from her small cart as she tries to make enough money to feed her disabled father and the rest of her family.
Fatima yearns to go to school like her noisy, cheerful customers, but she is her family’s only regular money-earner.
Her father, his two wives and six daughters all live in a dilapidated two-room, rented house with one bed and few other possessions.
She works from 7:00 am to 4:00 pm, starting her long day by picking up boxes of ice cream from a wholesaler and then pushing her cart through the rough and uneven streets of Herat city in the west of Afghanistan.
“My only and biggest dream is to have some money, so that I don’t need to work anymore and can go to school and study just like other girls,” Fatima told AFP.
“When I’m selling ice cream in front of this school and see other girls go inside, laughing and happy, I really wish I could go too.”
Child labour is common in Afghanistan, with 17 percent of all girls aged between 7 and 14 either working outside the home or doing full-time household chores, according to UNICEF.
Fatima makes just a few dollars a day, and spends it all looking after her family, who eat a simple daily meal of vegetables, rice and bread.
Her father Ab Zahir is in a wheelchair, with his legs paralysed after a spine accident when he was working as a labourer in neighbouring Iran four years ago.
On days when he feels well enough, he tries to help his daughter by selling mobile phone cards.
Back at their home, Fatima helps him move laboriously from his bed to his wheelchair, and she also fixes on his feet braces and massages and cleans his withered limbs.
It is a heavy burden for a young child.
“I cannot afford to eat ice cream. I like it, though,” she said. “I don’t like being poor.”
DISCLAIMER: This story accompanies an AFP photo essay by Aref Karimi