Demographic Changes, Employment and Social Security Issues of Aged in South Asia*
Afghanistan’s Case
  Untitled Document

Afghanistan, declared an independent country is practically under indirect occupation of forces that fight terror on its territory. The local administration is limited in its decisions regarding security, and balanced development.

Great social changes in a rapid succession of imposed governments on the people such as a puppet communist system followed by an extremist religious Mujahideen administration and now a so-called Democratic Islamic State that has copied Western style democratic institutions on paper, affect in a variety of ways the quantitative and qualitative aspects of demographic change.

A quarter century of war has left a huge mass of youth deprived of education that makes the unskilled unemployed portion of the population today. This in itself needs a thorough study regarding utilization of this huge group of population in a planned manner for the reconstruction of the country.

Afghanistan ranks amongst the ten least developed countries of the world that suffer from high infant mortality rate, low life expectancy rate, high prevalence of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, gastrointestinal diseases especially among children and a high rate of mortality among expectant mothers. On the other hand fertility rate among women has risen.

The government has done not much than a lip service to study all of these aspects or to plan for a balanced social and economic development. Two years ago, the government abolished the ministry of planning and at present there is a need for an effective coordinating body to be established especially to study problems affecting the country's population.

Therefore, unemployment is rising and there is barely any effective social service system to deal with the great need for social service in the country. The returning refugees place an additional burden on the already deficient infrastructure for education, health and communication. The assistance rendered to the government for meeting the needs of the returning refugees by the United Nations is nominal and of short duration. The result of this is creation of slums and shanty tent cities around major population centers.

Thanks only to a traditional value of the Afghans; the family looks after its aged members especially those who have larger families. The state has no system to cater for the needs of the aged in the society. Since poverty is prevalent and only a limited number of people have temporarily benefited from the huge amounts of money pumped into the economy, many families live in poverty and find it difficult to cater to the needs of its members, young and old. The economic growth figures published by the state fail to mention that any growth in the economy is artificial and will continue for the duration of the war on terror and the interest of the Western world in the country. World powers provide salaries for the military and the police and most salaries of other government officials. Once this source dries up, the country will be thrown back into the thick of poverty because no contingency plan has been considered so far.

But perhaps with awakening government interest and aid giving agencies to the great need for a study of the situation and planning ahead of time would certainly avert catastrophic consequences of the prevailing situations. This could be done by educating the government, the public and all aid giving agencies including the United Nations as to the greater need for foresight and planning.

This study will discuss salient issues affecting demographic trends and their effect in an extra-ordinary situation in one of the countries of South Asia, namely Afghanistan from the view points of effects of war, insecurity, lack of effective governance, lack of effective planning, lack of effective social services and their structure, social, political, economic and the effect of culture on all of this.

Effects of War:

War is an un-stabling event and also as an unpredictable condition affects the population in a variety of ways. War leads to displacement of population, disturbing population pyramid, a rush to urban areas of the insecure population, damages social services infrastructure and delivery and prevents effective planning for individuals and the public sector to render priority services. Afghan wars over a period of over three decades resulted in around five million refugees in Pakistan, around two million in Iran, and around a million and a half local displacements inside Afghanistan. These masses of population displaced from their home country affected in the negative all aspects of development apart from inflicting social, economic and psychological damages to the population involved and their extended families that remained back home.

Effects of Insecurity:

Insecurity eats upon people's confidence in earning a living and planning their lives around an established physical infrastructure and thus apart from creating an atmosphere of persistent fear, it interferes with opportunities for education and learning of skills needed for a productive life. Furthermore, where small business or farming could and have provided a venue for income for the individual, the products of these are put at the whim of the warlords with guns.

Lack of Effective Governance:

This has created a myriad of problems for the citizens who had for decades put their trust in a government that would protect their property, provide them with opportunities for work and education and would defend them against aggression of all kinds. Today, the population is under the rule of not a national government alone, but the warlords, and all those past time Mujahidin who have been able to keep their weapons and maintain not only their bodyguards but also private militia and act outside government structure, especially in the provinces and rural areas as the sole authority exacting taxes on people's crops, live-stocks and other livelihoods. These would then go to the pocket of the main warlord or a former Mujahid commander. This in its turn causes further internal migration and uncertainty in demographics of the provinces and regions. But another and perhaps most important aspect of lack of effective governance is non-existence of coordinated governmental effort to cater to the rising needs of the population. The Afghan government provides for the following under the President.

Minister of Foreign Affairs | Minister of Defense | Minister of Interior | Minister of Finance | Minister of Economy | Minister of Justice | Minister of Culture & Youth Affairs | Minister of Education | Minister Higher Education | Minister of Commerce | Minister of Water and Energy | Minister of Transportation | Minister of Women's Affairs | Minister of Haj and Islamic Affairs | Minister of Public Welfare | Minister of Public Health | Minister of Agriculture | Minister of Mines and Industries | Minister of Communications | Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development | Minister of Work, Social Affairs, Martyred, and Disabled | Minister of Border Affairs and Tribal affairs | Minister of Urban Development | Minister of Anti-Narcotics | Minister of Refugees

Of the above, specifically the following, in one way or another are supposedly engaged in dealing with demographic issues.

Ministry of Work, Social Affairs, Martyred and Disabled
Ministry of Women's Affairs
Ministry of Culture, Youth and Youth Affairs
Ministry of Urban Development
Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development
Ministry of Interior

As it happens there is no coordinating mechanism in place among these ministries and there is no evidence of a coordinated centralized data system to feed these ministries in order for them to plan for their services. On the other hand the ministries entrusted with more than one function normally place emphasis on the aspect of their work that has press and publication appeal. For example the ministry of culture, youth and youth affairs has concerned itself mostly with print and audio-visual publications such as public and private newspapers, radios and television stations giving less attention to youth issues. The end result is that ministries plan their efforts on the basis of expressed needs of pressure groups or political pressures rather than hard and reliable data.

In Afghanistan traditionally there were no laws governing births or deaths registration. People get registered mostly when they are involved in going to school or work. Formerly, they got registered also because they had to do the mandated military service. Lacking the bases for demographic statistics, the Ministry of Interior was in charge of issuing of national identification documents. The Ministry of Finance used to register property, moveable and non-moveable assets for purposes of taxation on land and livestock. These were always drastically inaccurate. The situation has not improved much in recent years especially with the protracted war and now prevailing insecurity in the country and many problems associated with it.


Lacking a government ministry or organization to help plan for development in the country, the ministries mostly on the whim of their ministers influenced by political consideration plan for the work of their ministries. Tremendous amount of aid money was promised to Afghanistan for reconstruction. This money was given to the government, the NGO's, private contractors and businesses. A part of the money was meant for the rebuilding of the infrastructure. It is very hard to find a balance sheet anywhere of how much money was spent in each sector let alone money spent per project. A listing of the projects by the Asian Development Bank is mostly a list of projects begun, completed, and incomplete or in abeyance. Further research is needed to find out how those projects were selected, what is the effect of the projects that are claimed to have been completed in the overall development of the country and what should be done regarding the projects that are not completed in time, or those that drag on consuming further assistance and those that were begun, did not get completed but just stopped. All of these have direct effect on the country's demographics.

This shows how dire is the need for scientific planning based on the priorities of the people. And to come back to our own theme of demographic study, how dire is the need for reliable data.

The Afghan population is definitely a young population. It will get younger before it would return to a path of getting older like in the Western world. (Please refer to the population pyramids copied in this paper.)

The following passage copies statements from the Afghanistan Human Development Report:

'The first-ever Afghanistan Human Development Report (HDR) noted that Afghanistan was ranked 173 out of 178 countries included in UNDP's 2004 human development index. The HDR notes that the country's poverty is compounded by a lack of social services, poor health, education, and nutrition, gender inequality, and human displacement. The HDR emphasizes that, despite progress in many of Afghanistan's development sectors, basic human needs and the genuine grievances of the Afghan population the lack of jobs, health, education, income, dignity, and opportunities for participation - must be addressed. The report also notes 'human security' and 'human development', rather than military force and diplomacy alone, are key to resolving Afghanistan's complex problems.'


While it was expected that the whole process of reconstruction of the country would provide employment opportunities to huge masses of population, the situations developed in such a way that in the initial period of five years unemployment rate started rising steeply from a figure of around 8% to as high as 40%. This figure has now persisted for the past three years that is 2006 to date.

Money and Development:

The following is a summary taken from the Government's economic development strategy that provides an insight into financial situations in relation to development in Afghanistan that would in turn affect issues related to Afghanistan's demographic standing:

'The Government's economic development strategy was laid out in the Berlin Conference document, Securing Afghanistan's Future. The Government's objective is to cover the wage bill by FY2009 and all government operating expenditures by FY2014. The current revenue to GD ratio amounts to approximately 4.5% and is expected to reach 12.5% by 2015. Achieving this ambitious target will require continued careful macroeconomic and expenditure management as well as substantial efforts to augment national revenue. Progress has been made in domestic revenue generation, which increased from $132 million in FY2003 to $208 million in FY2004 and to $269 million in FY2005. Tax policy reforms were enacted in early 2004. They included a final wage withholding tax on higher income employees, an improved income tax regime, and a limited range of consumption taxes on services such as telecommunications, air travel, hotels, and restaurants. A large taxpayer's office was established. According to the FY2006 budget, total domestic revenue is projected at $333 million, equivalent to an annual growth of approximately 30% (compared to annual real GDP growth estimated at around 10% and inflation of 10%). Nevertheless, as much as 50% of the Government's operating budget will require financing though foreign assistance.'

In support of the arguments in this paper the following data taken from the sources given at the footnotes ( are presented:


Asia > Afghanistan > People

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Age structure > 0-14 years


[19th of 226]

Age structure > 15-64 years


[206th of 226]

Age structure > 65 years and over

2.4 %

[217th of 225]

Chinese population


[99th of 127]

Percentage living in urban areas


[182nd of 199]

Population in 2015


[35th of 225]

Sex ratio > 15-64 years


[40th of 223]

Total population > Age 80-84


[90th of 224]

Total population > Age 80-84 > % of the total


[217th of 224]

Total Population > Female


[38th of 227]

Total Population > Male


[38th of 227]

Urban population



[62nd of 195]

Urban population growth > annual %

5.82 annual %


[5th of 195]



[189th of 204]

Women > Adult literacy rate females as a % of males


[142nd of 144]

Women > Antenatal care coverage %


[129th of 133]

Women > Contraceptive prevalence %


[169th of 170]

Women > Life expectancy females as a % of males


[172nd of 173]

Women > Maternal mortality ratio adjusted


[2nd of 166]

Women > Skilled attendant at delivery %


[171st of 172]

... View all People stats
SOURCES: CIA World Factbook, 28 July 2005; CIA World Factbook, 22 August 2006 ; University Libraries, Ohio University; Population Division of the United Nations Secretariat, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2003 Revision, Data Tables and Highlights. Estimates and projections of urban and rural populations are made by the Population Division of the United Nations Secretariat and published every two years. These estimates and projections are based on national census or survey data that have been evaluated and, whenever necessary, adjusted for deficiencies and inconsistencies; Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2004 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects:; U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, International Programs Center ; U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division, International Programs Center Spanish Statistical Institute; World Development Indicators database; Population Division of the United Nations Secretariat, World Urbanization Prospects: The 2001 Revision, Data Tables and Highlights (ESA/P/WP.173, 20 March 2002); UNICEF

What Does the Data Say?

It is to be noted that the working age group makes 52.9 percent of the total population. Of the more than half of the Afghans who fall into this age category, only a fraction is employed in government services such as army and police, and other executive branch departments, rudimentary private sector enterprises and agriculture. The socio-cultural issues such as a large group of orphans and widows that have no bread earners are not covered by social services. Unemployment is at its highest level because of insecurity, lack of education and skills of the younger population mostly born during the long protracted war and brought up under adverse conditions inside the country or in refugee camps in neighboring countries. This important resource for the country's development therefore, is wasted unless well thought programs of vocational and skills training are devised for them. The conditions become direr when urbanization amounts to around 6% per year and when unemployment rate is at 40%.

The following Population Pyramids would further point to the salient points raised in this paper regarding the Afghan population.

A Look at the Population Data:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 1990

Age and sex distribution for the year 1990:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 1995

Age and sex distribution for the year 1995:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 2000

Age and sex distribution for the year 2000:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 2003

Age and sex distribution for the year 2003:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 2005

Age and sex distribution for the year 2005:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 2010

Predicted age and sex distribution for the year 2010:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 2020

Predicted age and sex distribution for the year 2020:

Afghanistan Population Pyramid for 2050

Predicted age and sex distribution for the year 2050:

Afghan Government Information:

The following are a description of certain information about Afghanistan, as reported by its government:


updated on : 11 october 2007

Islamic Republic of Afghanistan


Population (2007)

31 889 923


Yearly growth rate




645 806





PNB (2004)


billion $USD

PNB/inhabitant (2004)



PNB growth



PIB (2005)


billion $USD

PIB/inhabitant (2005)



PIB growth (2005)



Life expectancy (2007)



Birth rate (2007)


Fecundity index (2007)


children /woman

Death rate (2007)


Child death rate (2007)


Currency converter

Afghani AFN

Human development index ( IDH 2005)


Nature of the state

Islamic republic

Head of the state

President Hamid Karzai

National holyday

24 april

Internet code of the country :


Source : CIA

The country recovers slowly and with difficulties from several decades of wars:

Activity areas


52.00 %


24.10 %


23.90 %

Urban areas Sort

Provinces Sort

Population Sort


Urbanization rate (2005)

22.89 %


Kabul (capital)

3 199 091




411 727



Mazari Sharif

326 737




283 581




217 879




171 816




157 277





139 372





137 304




Social Services for the Aged:

Social services in general are in their initial developing state. The government, the main organization to provide social services in the Afghan context, itself, is evolving. Private endeavor for provision of social services such as those to widows and orphans are carried outside government framework or charity and because of their status as a consuming organization rather than private business have uncertain future. In rural setting, traditionally the family, clan and the village have been taking care of need for social services. Although there have been long years of conflict, war and displacement, this cultural feature of the Afghans is still alive. As far as possible, the family itself takes care of its aged. The grandpa and grandma are considered assets to the family rather than liabilities. Afghan culture, irrespective of the different ethnic groupings, has the same pattern of respect for the elders and any negligence of their needs is looked down upon by the society. It is true that hard economic times plus conflict and insecurity remain threats to this age-old tradition, but so far it has survived perhaps because both Afghan historical values and those of their religion converge when it comes to respect for the elders. This however, should not be taken for granted in a rapidly changing world and that it is high time that the government should plan for social, cultural and especially medical needs of the aged population. This is especially important because as health services and economic conditions improve the number of the aged in the population would increase. For this there would be equally strong demand in urban and rural areas and perhaps the services need to be planned for urban areas first.

Conclusions and Recommendation:

For a student of demography, Afghanistan provides an interesting venue. It is wide open to research and studies on all aspects of population dynamics. Its demography is affected by war, insecurity, politics and efforts for nation building. Figures that exist are mostly approximations. Data are hard to come by.

It is also important to study Afghan demography as a sample of a population living in war zones. Additional burdens of war and conflict on demographic trends in war zones appear to be of special interest.

There seems to be greater need for population data and studies to fill the gaps in information about the trends and needs of the people.

In the face of the above we see that slightly over 31 million people living in Afghanistan, are considered a young population. Changing demographics tend to follow the general pattern of becoming older. Extremely high levels of unemployment make it a must that plans should be devised for education and training of a young population that grew under harsh conditions of war, displacement and security and thus remained mostly undereducated and unskilled. The process of reconstruction should be hastened also to create jobs for the working-age group of population.

The government helped by the United Nations must take up the responsibility of a research in areas of population and should envisage establishment of a research institute to take up necessary projects for basic studies in this regard. Furthermore, the government should start planning on the basis of real information and data that would make it possible to assess development on scientific data. International organizations, especially those involved in research should help and encourage the government of Afghanistan with the establishment of relevant research projects to be taken up by the research institute. For this there is further need for training and educating of cadres inside the country and calling upon those Afghans who live in Diaspora to contribute to this effort.

References are included in the text and as footnotes to data.

*This paper was written for presentation at a regional conference at the Institute for Economic Growth in New Delhi, India on November 10-11, 2008. Due to health reasons, the writer could not participate.


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