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Afghanistan: Child Trafficking A Mounting Problem

Afghanistan's Interior Ministry is calling attention to the growing problem of child abduction. Children from all over the country are being kidnapped and taken abroad for sexual servitude, slave labor, and illicit organ donation. The Interior Ministry last year made 100 arrests in connection with child trafficking. But officials say the problem is only getting worse.

Prague, 3 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Trafficking, by its nature, is a hidden problem. Few reliable statistics are available about the number of people victimized by trafficking or the countries they are taken to.

Afghanistan is no exception. There are no figures available on the breadth of the country's child-trafficking rings -- just signs that the problem is getting worse.

The number of arrests made in connection to child abductions is increasing. And since 2003, Afghan police have rescued nearly 200 abducted children -- both boys and girls -- in different parts of the country.

"In the last two weeks, police in Kabul and other provinces, but especially in Kabul, rescued more than 16 or 17 children from the grip of their abductors."
Last week on 29 April, Afghanistan's interior minister, Ali Ahmed Jalali, said that in the past two weeks alone, some 25 people have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping and trafficking of children. That compared with 2003, when a total of 100 such arrests were made.

Jalali also said dozens of children were freed from their abductors in the wave of arrests.

"In the last two weeks, police in Kabul and other provinces, but especially in Kabul, rescued more than 16 or 17 children from the grip of their abductors. And this means that [child] abduction is a very serious problem facing the security organs," Jalali said.

Afghan children are being kidnapped on their way to school or while playing in parks. The Afghan interior minister says boys and girls are abducted for both domestic and international markets, to be used for sex or labor, or to provide human organs.

Jalali said last year some 750 children were abducted and taken to Saudi Arabia. Only 250 of them have been brought back home.

"The children who are being abducted are both boys and girls,” Jalali said. “They are kidnapped for different purposes. Unfortunately, in many cases, a lack of public information, the cleverness of the abductors and the extent of the abduction network is leading to an increase in abduction in different parts of Afghanistan. During the last year we arrested 100 people who were involved in abduction."

Last September, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) expressed concern about the trafficking of children from Afghanistan and said in some cases children as young as 4 years old were abducted in the northern and northeastern regions of the country.

According to UNICEF's executive director, child trafficking represents one of the worst violations of children's rights in the world.

According to a recent report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), trafficking in Afghanistan is attributed to several factors -- among them the decades of conflict, lack of security, and poor socio-economic prospects.

Hengameh Anwari is an expert in children's rights at the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Anwari says poverty and even tradition prompts some families to willingly send their children abroad through illegal channels.

"For economic reasons, in general, families are willing to send their children to countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other places so that they work [and earn money]. From a cultural and traditional point of view, many believe that by sending their children to places such as Pakistan, they can gain a better religious education. Consequently many families send their children to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia so that they study the Islamic teachings," Anwari said.

Few parents realize, however, what awaits their children once abroad. Afghan children are sold by traffickers for use as manual labor, street beggars, or sexual slaves. In some cases, their kidneys are removed and sold on the illicit organ market.

"Reports indicate that these children -- even if they're sent to work -- are being exploited,” Anwari said. “Other reports that cause concern indicate that a number of children are abducted because of their body organs; they become victims of trafficking to foreign countries especially for their kidneys. In some cases children are kidnapped for sexual abuse."

Last week a workshop on combating child trafficking in Afghanistan was held in Kabul. A national antitrafficking action plan was discussed during the two-day workshop, which includes proposed antitrafficking legislation and raising citizen awareness about the problem.

Hengameh Anwari from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission expresses hope that the plan will come into force in the near future.

"Our hope is that within a month or two the national plan will be approved by the cabinet, so that upon an order by the head of the government the plan can be applied throughout Afghanistan. We hope that through this legal framework which is the national plan we would be able to lessen and stop the practice of child trafficking and turn it to zero," Anwari said.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.