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Being normal. Going to school. Coming home. Playing with friends. It might not seem very glamorous, but every child deserves the right to live a normal life. Yet for Afghan boys, male child trafficking threatens this right. Promises of a job, education, a safe home have been dangled in front of their eyes, only to be viciously replaced by fear, violence, and hopelessness.

For Daud, it was the promise of a job that pushed him to join a group of men working in the city where he lived. He lived and worked with the criminal gang, bringing back the money earned to the gang at night where most of it was passed onto the leader of the group. One day, his leader moved him to go to a larger city, hours away from family and friends, where he was expected to continue working.

In 2013, Hagar International completed a six month study of male child trafficking in Afghanistan. Findings showed that as many as one in ten Afghan boys are likely to be victims of male child trafficking. Afghan boys are most likely to be trafficked for sexual exploitation, forced labor, and child soldiering. This risk of male child trafficking is compounded by the lack of recovery services. In the research, Afghan boy survivors expressed their need for a safe place where they can begin to shift their focus from surviving to living. However, currently there is only one center focused on the needs of male child survivors. More often than not, Afghan boy survivors are placed in the juvenile rehabilitation centers, as criminals, or returned to families, with no focus on recovery. This creates a pattern of re-victimization.

When Daud was found by the police, they returned him to his family, however his family refused to accept him, seeing him as a “bad boy who had done bad things”. So he found himself on the street and began working with the same criminal gang. Once again, the leader forced him back to the larger city, where he was expected to continue stealing. The police found Daud again, alone and far from home. Fortunately, this time Daud was referred to the Forgotten No More recovery center for male child survivors of trafficking.

Hagar Afghanistan is working to ensure that male child survivors of trafficking have access to quality recovery services. The Forgotten No More recovery center was opened in 2013. Here male child survivors of trafficking find a safe, family-like space where they can begin the recovery process. A space that allows them to go to school. A space for playing. A space for healing. A space for exploring new skills. A space for being normal.

Today, Daud woke up for morning prayers. He ate breakfast. He went to school. He played with friends at the skate park. He came home. When asked how he feels, he replies, “ I feel like a normal boy”.

Jane E. Thorson is the Senior Technical Advisor for Recovery and Reintegration with Hagar International in Afghanistan. For the past two years, she has been working to ensure that male child survivors are able to access quality recovery services in Afghanistan, and advocating for the needs of male child survivors of trafficking in Afghanistan among government officials, international organizations, and communities.

Hagar International is an organization dedicated to the protection, recovery, and community integration of survivors of extreme human rights abuses, particularly human trafficking, gender-based violence and sexual exploitation. We serve individual women and children regardless of religion, political preference, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation, and do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to restore life in all its fullness.