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Trafficking of Afghan children beyond borders

Trafficking of Afghan children beyond borders

Jan 21, 2017 - 11:40

HERAT CITY (Pajhwok): Insecurity, unemployment and poverty is compelling ever increasing number of Afghan children to migrate to neighboring countries especially to Iran to keep their hopes afloat for a better future.

Herat, a comparatively developed province in the country’s west, remains a major corridor for human smuggling, particularly that of children to Iran. In Herat, people from other provinces could be seen who have been deported from Iran.

Some of these people remain in Herat for a few days before going back to their respective provinces. However, a few stay back and try their luck for yet another chance for their re-entry into Iran as irregular (illegal) migrants.

Grim situation of children smuggling

Sifatullah, 16, who hails from Chalchina in northern Kunduz province, said human smugglers brought him to Herat and sneaked him into Iran via Nimroz province nine months ago. However, he was apprehended by Iranian police and deported him back to Afghanistaninfo-icon and is currently living in Herat City.

Referring to the circumstances leading to his decision of illegal migrationinfo-icon to Iran, Sifatullah noted: “Due to the presence of Talibaninfo-icon and resulting hostilities in our area, we were unable to grow crops in our farms.  My father advised me go to Iran as remaining in the troubled area I would have been compelled to either take sides with the Taliban or the government  and in both scenarios I would be killed.”

Having decided to migrate to Iran, Sifatullah at the age of 15 years, traveled to Nimroz province via Kabulinfo-icon, where Pakistani smugglers took him along with several other Afghans to Iran.

After being sneaked into Iran, he along with other Afghan migrant stayed in a hotel in Iran’s southeastern city Kerman, from where they were asked to move to another place.

While travelling to our further destination, a Baloch man sexually assaulted a 12-year-old Afghan boy in the bus and nobody dared to stop him.”

“We were taken to a room elsewhere and kept hungry for three days. The smugglers took us hostages and asked us to contact our families in Afghanistan to pay ransom money to our captors. They beat us mercilessly and threatened to kill us if our families did not pay them the ransom.”

Narrating his unending ordeal in Iran, he said: “During my stay in Iran for nine months with other Afghan children, we suffered a lot there. Other than forced labour, I was also sexually harassed there. In order to overcome mental stress and physical tiredness, we took refuge to sedative drugs such as opium and hashish.”

The young Afghan boy added that "all along our painful stay in Iran, doing backbreaking labour, the memory of our families further saddened us all."

Sifatullah added that he also tried to search for one of his uncles, who was smuggled into Iran 14 years ago, but could not succeed in finding his whereabouts. Voice trembling with grief, Sifatullah said: "No one knows his whereabouts, he has disappeared."

Amin, a 15-year old Afghan boy too had a similar story to share. With a grief-stricken tone he said: "I was in Iran for nine months, however, it seemed as if it was 90 years of ordeal, pain and torture. I was sexually abused on many occasion during my stay there." 

He urged families not to be deceived by the smugglers and desist from handing over their children to smugglers. “In doing so, the parents would destroy their children’s lives with their own hands.”

In a note of advise to the Afghanistan government authorities, he suggested that the government should improve security, generate employment opportunities and provide facilities for rescuing people especially the children from the menace of traffickers and conduct awareness programmes lest people do not fall prey to human trafficking.

Abdul Hamid, 12, another boy who was deported from Iran, also recounted his ordeal in Iran and said that Iranian police deported him without informing his parents who are still in Iran.

“I was working when Iranian police took me to a police station and after eight days in their custody, deported me to Afghanistan without informing my parents in Iran.”

Unemployment main factor behind irregular migration

Mustafa Alizada sent his 12-year-old son to Iran in search of work. “I am disabled and have eight members in the family who need to be fed. So I gave 15 million tomans to an agent who smuggled him into Iran. My son was though deported.”

Sabria Etemadi, who sent her two sons to Iran for work, said: “I am a widow and have no one to feed us. I sent my two sons 15 and 16 years old to Iran for work while I work as a house maid in Afghanistan.”

Concerns abound

Ghulam Rasoul Umari, a UNICEF official in Herat, acknowledged that Afghan children are being smuggled to Iran and the organization has been compiling children's ordeal.

“Twelve children have been deported by Iranian authorities in one day. The families of these children live in Iran and we are very much concerned about that.”

He said the UNICEF have been investigating such cases with the affected children identifying the smugglers.

The UNICEF official noted that human smuggling flaunts international convention which is considered a criminal offence in Afghan laws. He added that the government should create awareness about child rights through religious scholars and other social networks.

A senior advisor to the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled (MoLSAMD), Fazl Elahi Ibrahimi, said the ministry has established protection centers in four zones of the country in 2014-15 to facilitate rehabilitation of trafficked children. He though lamented dwindling foreign aid that had negative bearing on their efforts. He said: "Following decrease in foreign aid to Afghanistan, now we have only one such center operational in Kabul. The Kabul center provided services to 662 children ever since 2013.

Javid Nadim, Refugee and Repatriation Director in Herat province, said a large number of children have been trafficked to foreign countries from Afghanistan.

The official could not provide on trafficked children statistics, saying that no organization has accurate statistics in this regard.

He, however, said: “Daily, around 20 Afghan children are deported from Iran with a total of 3,350 children deported to Afghanistan from March 2016 to December 2016.  We handed over these children to their families with the support of some organizations working in the rehabilitation of returnee Afghans.”

Unemployment and ransom seeking are among factors behind child trafficking, he added.

Afghanistan has ratified SAARCinfo-icon Convention on Preventing and Combating the Trafficking in Womeninfo-icon and Children for Prostitution.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) office in Herat was unsatisfied and critical of government’s efforts in implementing the SAARC convention.

Human rights violations

Abdul Qadir Rahimi, Head of AIHRC at Herat, told Pajhwok Afghan News concerning large scale deportation of Afghan children from Iran.

He pointed out that the Commission has interviewed 583 children at the Islam Qala dry port on the border with Iran. Rahimi urged the families to be careful and protect their children from human traffickers.

Trafficked children’s psychological condition

Sharafuddin Azimi, a psychology lecturer at the Kabul University, said children who are bullied or tortured have suicidal tendencies and suffer from depression and lack of self-confidence.

He said children who used narcotics also suffered many mental and physical illnesses when they reached adulthood.

Azimi pointed out that “Child trafficking is a new form of modern day slavery. This underground trafficking industry (sic) is a flourishing business for the traffickers."

Detention of human traffickers

On the preventive measures undertaken by the border police force against trafficking, Col. Gulbuddin Alokozai, the 5th border police brigade commander in Herat, said that 60 human traffickers had been arrested during the past 10 months.

The traffickers received two to three million Iranian currency, approx. 1,000 US dollars against each person. Most of them were trafficked to Iran through Nimroz port.

“Around 500 to 600 people including 50 to 60 children are deported daily from Iran,” Alokozai said.

Smuggling of Migrants is considered a criminal offence in Afghanistan Penal Code as well as in the provisions of Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants. The  law defines smuggling of migrants as providing the means for an Afghan citizen, foreign national or stateless person to travel to another country without official travel documents or with forged documents.

Article14, clause (1) of the law stipulates imprisonment for a term of more than three years for a person who commits the crime of smuggling of migrants. However, in case of zina or sodomy with the victim, the offender is punished with the provisions of Sharia law of hadd or long term imprisonment of more than 12 years.



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