Human trafficking in the Afghan context: Caught between a rock and a hard place?
Credit: UNOCHA/Sayed Habib Bidel
Decades of wars and internal conflicts have driven generations and millions of Afghan families into impoverishment, illiteracy, unemployment, and displacement, rendering them unable to provide for their household members, particularly children. Political instability and conflicts have increased human suffering and vulnerabilities, eroded community resilience, stripped people of legitimate and viable economic options, opportunities, and livelihoods, as well as amplifying (in several cases also creating new forms of) human trafficking activities and practices. Drawing on existing academic and grey literatures, expert interviews and media reports, this paper first provides a brief overview of human trafficking situations, forms, their widespread reach and practices in the Afghan context before and after the Taliban’s takeover in August 2021. Second, it discusses the potential implications and impact of various actors’ policies, intentions and perspectives both on the humanitarian crises in Afghanistan, and on human trafficking in particular. It argues for prioritising humanitarian assistance, and recommends that stakeholders pursue a pragmatic approach to responses and negotiations that puts human lives at its centre, to prevent worsening the humanitarian crises, exacerbating vulnerability to human trafficking, and further loss of life.
- Afghan women and children, particularly young boys and girls, account for the majority of human trafficking victims within and outside Afghanistan. The continuing humanitarian crises, coupled with widespread unemployment, worsening poverty, and limited opportunities to secure viable livelihoods or receive financial assistance have significantly heightened the susceptibility of Afghan women and children to trafficking. Proposed interventions should aim to provide women with accessible forms of (multipurpose) cash and in-kind assistance that can be used to meet their urgent needs.
- Political instability, deteriorating economic conditions, natural disasters, a global pandemic and the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan have changed the dynamics of child protection: in many areas girls can no longer go to school, at the same time families encourage children, including boys, to leave school in order to work in carpet making, domestic service, truck driving, and in many cases, to engage in illicit activities and worst forms of child labour such as begging, poppy cultivation and harvesting, transnational drug smuggling, brick kilns, salt mining, and so on, in order to earn money.
- As the Taliban is re-establishing rule and control over the country, many basic government services—including legal and medical—have collapsed during the government transition and continued to remain underfunded.Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed to minimise food insecurity, improve access to clean water, and provide other forms of emergency aid. Principled humanitarian action should be the highest and most urgent priority.
- In considering sanctions on the Taliban regime, western countries should exempt any that could potentially delay or limit humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable groups.
- External stakeholders, especially western countries and international organisations (for instance the United States, and members of the European Union) should pursue a pragmatic approach to their response and negotiations, centred on human rights and human lives, to prevent a worsening of the humanitarian crises, exacerbating vulnerability to human trafficking and further loss of human life.
- Solutions seeking to address the continuing humanitarian crises in the country and to support the population of Afghanistan should also include millions of Afghan migrants and refugees in the two largest host countries: Pakistan and Iran.
- There should be no forced return (refoulement) or deportation of the Afghan migrants and refugees, especially of those born outside Afghanistan.
- Civil society actors and humanitarian responders in the country need to remain alert to and be prepared to face any potential hostility and retaliation by the Taliban.
Read full report here.