The overall conclusion that internally displaced households are a particularly vulnerable group within the Afghan population is not an unexpected revelation. What becomes apparent, however, is the extent to which children of displaced households may be particularly affected. This study makes obvious the need for further inquiry pertaining to appropriate protection of and assistance for displaced households that explicitly takes children into account and that ultimately can lead to durable solutions.
In essence, potential durable solutions for internally displaced households include return to areas of origin, local integration, or resettlement elsewhere (Schmeidl et al. 2010). Although return may be seen to be the politically optimal solution, this is not likely without tackling the underlying causes of displacement from original locations—namely, insecurity and a lack of livelihood opportunities, particularly in the case of Afghanistan. In the meantime, policies that support local integration by focusing not only on displaced households but also the whole community may be more tolerable and effective. Such a community-wide approach would in principle help local disparities and ease tensions between a diverse set of groups regardless of initial conditions.
When it comes to policies targeting the well-being of displaced children in particular, this study highlights the importance of human capital formation and, more specifically, education and nutrition. Initiatives looking to target such factors in communities with a high concentration of displaced households could be easily linked to broader interventions (e.g., those focused on training and employment.) With regard to education, for example, the lack of qualified teachers is a fundamental and all-too-common obstacle to quality schooling in Afghanistan. An increase in the training, hiring, and monitoring of new teachers in displacement-affected communities has the opportunity to provide clear benefits to both children and entire households within that community. Any such teacher-focused program also would need to take into account culturally sensitive topics related to gender-based nonattendance.
To minimize low levels of enrollment for girls, the training and hiring of more female instructors may prove essential. Additionally, the occurrence of child labor needs to be considered, especially for those households with too few sources of income by adult members. A local jobs program targeting such vulnerable households potentially could be linked to an education initiative in which school enrollment of all children under a certain age is required for an adult member to be deemed eligible.
A similar approach of linking initiatives could prove useful when it comes to nutrition. There already exist a number of examples of school meals programs, notably the World Food Programme, which is the largest humanitarian provider of school meals worldwide. Beyond this straightforward and essential intervention, other options include setting up a conditional assistance that incentivizes child health outcomes more generally. Similar to what has been now witnessed in countless countries around the world, conditional cash transfers could provide the necessary motivation for children to see an official doctor at regular intervals. Conditional land-based assistance also could be effective in rural communities where agricultural production is the main economic activity. Such a program might provide land and/or agricultural resources (e.g., seeds, fertilizer, tools) to vulnerable households but with practical child-specific conditions clearly communicated for eligibility.
With any of these potential schemes aimed at strengthening local integration—the only practical durable solution for many displaced Afghans—the viability of the programs clearly depends on cooperation not only from local actors but also national and international stakeholders alike. At this tenuous moment in the countries long-storied history, there is a real need for the international community to remain engaged on the ground and to maintain attention on some of the most vulnerable within the Afghan population. Both short-term humanitarian protection for the recently displaced, and more long-term development assistance for those living in a protracted situation, are essential to the well-being of so many families and whole communities in this particularly fragile situation.