Forgotten No More: Male Child Trafficking In Afghanistan

Forgotten No More: Male Child Trafficking In Afghanistan

Forgotten No More: Male Child Trafficking In Afghanistan

Executive Summary

In Afghanistan, trafficking in persons is still viewed primarily as a problem for Afghan women and girls. Boys are seen as being more susceptible to kidnapping and smuggling. However, as early as 2004, reports began to emphasise that boys were potentially more at risk of trafficking than girls.2 IOM3 and UNICEF4 in 2008, as well as the US Department of State in 20115 , again referenced the high vulnerability of boys to trafficking in Afghanistan. Yet prior to 2012, there had been no research specifically focused on male child trafficking in the country.

Based on the existing gaps in knowledge, Hagar Afghanistan conducted a qualitative research study of male child trafficking in Afghanistan from October 2012 to April 2013.

This research was produced with funding support from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (J/TIP), US Department of State, and administered by Hagar USA in collaboration with Hagar International.

Research Objectives

The goal of the research was to build a baseline of understanding and knowledge of the extent and nature of male child trafficking in Afghanistan, in order to drive the design of a culturally appropriate model of care for male child victims of trafficking based on the research.


Field research was conducted in four provinces: Kabul, Kunduz, Herat and Nangarhar. These four provinces were chosen based on first-hand reports from key informants about prevalence of trafficking in these regions, as well as the presence of IOM shelters for survivors, which made access to male child survivors possible. The research adhered to international ethical and safety standards for research with children.

The research was strategic in that it not only included stakeholders involved in combatting child trafficking, but also gave a voice to male child survivors of trafficking and those at risk of trafficking, through semistructured interviews and focus group discussions (FGDs). From conversations with 210 stakeholders, including 130 boys, data on three major themes – male child trafficking, male child survivors of trafficking and programme design – was collected resulting in new insights into male child trafficking in Afghanistan, as well as the recovery needs of male child survivors of trafficking. Afghan Context Afghanistan has the components necessary for the prevention, protection and prosecution of child trafficking:

  • Law Countering Abduction and Human Trafficking/Smuggling (signed in 2008)
  • High Commission on Combatting Human Trafficking
  • Child Protection Action Network (CPAN)
  • Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC)
  • Attorney Department within the National Directorate of Security (responsible for prosecution of trafficking cases)

However, the capacity of these components is still quite limited and will require committed support from external sources to not only ensure that the understanding and knowledge of male child trafficking is present, but also that the proper course of action is derived from that knowledge.

Overall, the understanding of trafficking in persons continues to be plagued by confusion. Male child survivors of trafficking are more likely to be identified as children in conflict with the law, and referred to the Juvenile Rehabilitation Centres (JRCs). In the research findings, seven of the 13 confirmed cases of male child victims of trafficking6 had not been identified as victims of trafficking by local actors. Furthermore, five of the seven had been referred to the JRCs on criminal charges.

The vulnerabilities of boys in Afghanistan are different.7 Services designed specifically for male child survivors of trafficking do not exist. Moreover, services for victims of trafficking in general are limited by funding and lack the capacity to meet the needs of male child victims of trafficking who have been sexually exploited. Due to security issues and lack of capacity, service providers are unable to work with boys who have been recruited by military groups.

Male Child Trafficking

Boys from Badakhsan, Takhar, Baghlan, Kunduz and Balkh provinces in the North region of Afghanistan appear most at risk of trafficking. Fifty per cent of the stakeholders referred to the North as the most likely place of origin for male child victims of trafficking. Additionally, six out of the 13 boys identified as victims of trafficking during the field research also came from the Northern provinces.

Destination provinces are more varied, and appear to depend on the type of exploitation. Sexual exploitation, including bacha bazi (dancing boys), is more likely to be trafficked internally. Trafficking for forced labour occurs both internally and externally, while recruitment of child soldiers is more likely to involve external trafficking, specifically to Pakistan.8

The research was able identify three main types of exploitation of male child survivors of trafficking:

  • Sexual (including bacha bazi)
  • Forced labour
  • Child recruitment for military groups

“During the night, they would make me dance and one of them would do bad work (rape) on me again and again”

Boys, ages 13 and younger are most likely to be trafficked for sexual exploitation. Within sexual exploitation, at least 50 per cent of the cases were related to bacha bazi, and the sexual abuse and rape within these cases appeared to be a daily occurrence. Sexual exploitation crossed lines into forced labour. Boys, ages 14-18, were more likely trafficked for forced labour or as child soldiers. Types of labour for recruitment focused on assistant truck drivers, brick kilns and mines, as well as children working on the street. Exploitation of child soldiers was primarily referenced in connection to children recruited for suicide bombers by the armed opposition groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan. However, there were references to recruitment by the Afghan –National Army.

Perpetrators were very strategic, taking time to hunt for boys who fit the following criteria:

  • Those unaccompanied
  • Those from unstable family backgrounds
  • Those under the age of 15

The main tactics used by the perpetrators involved promises of work and care.

“It is getting late, where will you go, come with us and we will treat you like our brother.”

Male Child Victims of Trafficking

Male child survivors of trafficking interviewed ranged from 12-18 years old, and were unaccompanied at the time of trafficking. Three main factors appear to have impacted their vulnerability:

  • Economic: lack of employment opportunities and debt
  • Family: conflict with head of household, loss of parents, second marriages
  • Education: lack of access to quality religious education

Male child survivors of trafficking see family as essential to their recovery. Most responses to questions about their needs included a focus on being reintegrated with family, assisting heads of family with employment, and finding a safe, long term place to live, for those who do not have a family.

Male child survivors of trafficking need recovery services tailored for their specific types of exploitation. Boys trafficked for sexual exploitation were less educated and were dealing with shame and hopelessness. On the other hand, boys exploited by military groups appeared well educated, had good social skills and expressed feelings of anger at the charges placed against them.

Programme Design

When given the option to design their own recovery programmes, male child survivors focused on programmes that met both their physical and future safety needs. Physical safety focused on reintegration with family and a safe, stable place to live. Future safety focused on vocational training and educational opportunities.

Considerations for programme design:

A culturally appropriate model of care for male child survivors of trafficking should include:

1. Comprehensive recovery services including vocational training, education, health, legal and counselling

2. Family focus

3. Small staff-to-client ratio

4. Individualised case planning

5. Close cooperation with MoLSA and CPAN

Key Recommendations

The following key recommendations are focused on increasing understanding of male child trafficking and the paradigms of protection, prevention and prosecution within male child trafficking. They are based on the data collected during the field research.

Research: 1. Target future research on specific types of exploitation, such as labour.

2. Explore the different types of action involved in male child trafficking in Afghanistan, moving past the more common types of recruitment, transport or harbouring.

Protection: 1. Coordinate with existing Afghan police training programmes, such as Hagar’s Trafficking-in-Persons Capacity-building in Afghanistan Project (TIPCAP), to include basic training on identifying and protecting male child victims and survivors of trafficking.

2. Establish a long-term residentialbased recovery programme within an urban centre for male child survivors of trafficking who are not able to return to their families.

Prevention: 1. Continue to build the capacity of the existing CPAN reintegration process to ensure that the best interests of the child are the priority through continued mentoring of current social workers, and offering training on male child trafficking, child rights and trauma informed care.

2. Collaborate with community development service providers in the provinces of Badakhsan, Kunduz, Takhar and Balkh to provide basic training on male child trafficking awareness within their existing community development programmes.

Prosecution: 1. Improve access to justice for male child survivors of trafficking by training caregivers, organisations and government ministries on the legal rights and options available for male child survivors of trafficking.

2. Implement training on the identification of perpetrators of male child trafficking within the Attorney General Directorate, the Ministry of Justice and the NDS Attorney Department.

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