KUNDUZ -- The closure of the provincial orphanage in Sar-e-Pul city nine months ago due to lack of funding has put in limbo the futures of as many as 60 children staying with relatives -- who themselves are suffering from economic hardship and uncertainty.
The children and their relatives say they want the services restored at the orphanage so the children can receive proper care.
Imam Ali, 67, a resident of Sar-e-Pul city, said he cannot afford to feed his three grandchildren, all of whom were previously living in the orphanage.
"My two sons ... were a police officer and a soldier," he said. "Unfortunately, they were both martyred, and now I cannot support their children."
"I have a 12-year-old grandchild from my deceased son, whose wife married another man and left her son under my care. Similarly, my second martyred son left behind two children," Ali said. "I don't make enough to feed them."
His sons died during fighting in 2018 in Sayyad district, Sar-e-Pul, and the children were then admitted to the orphanage, he said.
"I call on the government to reopen the orphanage so that people like me can send back their orphaned children for better care and guardianship," he said.
Sayefurrahman, 10, also wants to return to the orphanage.
"My father was killed by unknown people eight years ago, and my mother married another man," he said. "My grandfather, therefore, enrolled me in the orphanage."
"The services and facilities at the orphanage were great," Sayefurrahman said, noting that the children in it had access to education and adequate food.
"However, I have been living with my grandfather for the past several months and I wonder how I am going to survive and what future awaits me without those benefits," he said.
He said his grandfather is too old to work and suffers from severe economic hardships.
Mohammad Ilyas, 11, is in a similar situation.
"I had to go to my uncle's home after they dismissed us from the orphanage," he said. "I do not eat enough, nor do I have proper clothes, and my uncle is a poor man. Feeding his own children costs him everything he earns."
Children's futures in limbo
Officials say they are raising funds to be able to bring the children back to the orphanage.
"Some 60 orphan children lived in the orphanage but are now living with relatives," said Mohammad Mobasher, provincial director of the labour and social affairs directorate in Sar-e-Pul.
"We have been in touch with Save the Children, the United Nations Children's Fund [UNICEF] and ACTED [Agency for Technical Co-operation and Development, a French NGO] to help us bring these children back to the orphanage," he said.
"We will continue our efforts, and whenever these organisations start providing support, we will return the children to the orphanage," he said.
The orphanage's staff report to their remaining duties daily and will spare no efforts to ensure the children's care if they return, said Mobasher.
Most of the orphanage's residents are the children of deceased security personnel, said Sebghatullah Mahmoodi, a resident of Sar-e-Pul.
"According to reports, the majority of orphanages in several provinces where children of [deceased] security personnel were cared for have closed and their future remains in limbo," he said.
"Children need compassion and empathy, especially when they have no parents," he said. "In such circumstances, their only hope is that the [authorities] take very good care of them and enable their education until they grow up and know how to build their own lives."