World Review: Afghanistan, child labour and vaccine passports in France

In this weekend’s World Review, Tom Arms reports the Taliban is proving to be a loose coalition that is quickly falling apart along centuries-old tribal lines and more contemporary political axes. He turns his attention to the impact that Covid is having on child labour in the developing world. And he reviews how Marcon’s insistence on vaccine passports turned France from an country opposed to vaccination to one where 74% of adults have had at least one dose.

Afghanistan has started to drop off the news headlines of the Western media. It is done and dusted. The troops have withdrawn along with the cash hand-outs. Afghanistan is no longer a responsibility or interest. If only there was nothing to be interested in. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As predicted, the Taliban is proving to be a loose coalition that is quickly falling apart along centuries-old tribal lines and more contemporary political axes. Politically, there is a moderate faction led by Deputy Leader Abdul Baradar, who has promised an end to Afghanistan as a terrorist base and education for women (within Islamic law). There were reports that he been killed in a presidential palace shoot-out by his main opponent Khalid Haqqani. Baradar was forced to appear before the television cameras to deny the reports, but rumours of dangerous dissension persist. Haqqani is on the FBI’s most wanted list and leader of the hard-line Haqqani faction. Backing him up in the government are two his nephews, Sirajuddin Haqqani (also on the FBI’s most wanted list) and Anas Haqqani. Members of the Haqqani faction are believed to have links with ISIS-K who were responsible for the bombing of Kabul Airport which killed 200 people. While the government falls apart nicely, the people of Afghanistan are literally dying of starvation. The UN reports that four million Afghans are in immediate danger. Their fate is further exacerbated by a severe drought in 25 of the country’s provinces and the fact that there is no money to buy seed for the crucial winter crops. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation has promised to release funds to pay for the winter seed—but only if it is reassured that a government capable of distributing money and seeds is in charge in Kabul.

A story which so far has not made it near the Western news headlines is the impact that Covid is having on child labour in the developing world, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that between 2016 and 2020 the incidence of child labour around the world had risen to 160 million, with most of it Sub-Saharan Africa. Then came covid and the closure of schools across the continent. In some mining districts, the number of children breaking and sorting rocks rose by 50 percent. The ILO reckons that 39 million children under the age of 15 are involved in dangerous work in the mining and fishing industries. The situation, however, is not completely cut and dry evil versus good. Seventy percent of the child labourers work on family farms. Without their help the family would go hungry. The answer appears to be reducing poverty levels so that families can afford to send their children to school to play and learn rather than push them into the fields and mines. One solution might be a programme being promoted by the World Bank whereby poor families are paid to send their children to school in order to replace the money they would have earned in the field. Of course, this requires the schools to open which in turn depends on an end to the pandemic. There is no sign of the latter, especially as the developed world is being slow in supplying the required vaccines.

France—the international home of Liberty and libertarianism coupled with muleheadness—was the leading anti-vax nation. In December, 60 percent of the population said they would refuse to be jabbed. Then in mid-July, President Emmanuel Macron announced the introduction of the Covid passport. If you wanted entry into sports stadiums, night clubs, trains, planes or cinemas, you had to produce a document proving you had been or tested. The libertarian right and left cried foul. There were massive street demonstrations. There was a heated dusk to dawn debate in the National Assembly. Macron stuck to his guns. The people caved in. A return to normality and the good life trumped libertarianism. Within hours of Macron’s announcement one million people volunteered to be jabbed. By the end of August 74 percent of the French population had been vaccinated with at least one dose. Other European countries (Italy, Denmark and Greece) have adopted similar programmes with similar results. Britain has considered but for the time rejected vaccine passports and death rates are rising. Germany is another outlier. Biden has made vaccinations compulsory for 100 million workers and vaccination rates have jumped five percentage points, despite objections from Republican states. Both France and Biden’s America prove that a stiff resolve coupled with rewards defeats the anti-vax conspiracy theorists.

* American expat journalist Tom Arms is LDV's foreign affairs editor and Campaigns Chair for Wandsworth Lib Dems. His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.