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Human trafficking on the rise in Afghanistan despite new laws

by Jared Ferrie | @jaredferrie | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 29 March 2018 18:32 GMT

"The perception is that human trafficking is not a priority for the Afghan government"

By Jared Ferrie

BANGKOK, March 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - One year after Afghanistan strengthened human trafficking laws to prohibit the use of boys for sexual entertainment, there is little enforcement and trafficking is on the rise, experts say.

"Bacha bazi" - in which young boys are abducted by commanders who force them to dance and sexually abuse them - was explicitly prohibited for the first time in the updated anti-trafficking and smuggling law, enacted in January 2017.

This was significant because cultural taboos discourage open discussion of bacha bazi, said Wali Mohammad Kandiwal, author of a recent study on the new law.

One reason officials acknowledged bacha bazi was that anti-government militias began increasingly using young boys as weapons, said Meena Poudel, who heads the counter-trafficking project at the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"Young boys are kidnapped by militant groups," she said. "Once they use them sexually, they use them for suicide bombers."

She added that the government has recognised that its security forces have also practiced bacha bazi.

The Taliban have been waging an insurgency to overthrow Kabul's Western-backed government since their 2001 ouster and control large parts of the country.

An official with the justice ministry declined to comment.

There are no official estimates of the number of trafficking cases in Afghanistan, but IOM is working with the government to create its first database, as well as training members of its anti-trafficking commission.

Experts say trafficking cases - which include forced labour and marriage, domestic work and the sex trade - are on the rise.

"The research finds that the number is increasing, and it is becoming more complex," Poudel told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Kabul.

For example, the "medical mafia", which is active throughout the region, is operating in Afghanistan where organs are being harvested from trafficking victims, she said.

Traffickers are preying on the increasing number of Afghans who have been deported or decided to return from neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, as well as those uprooted by conflict inside the country, said Poudel.

While the anti-trafficking law has been strengthened, resources to enforce it have not been forthcoming, said Kandiwal, whose study was published by the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, a Kabul-based think tank.

"The perception is that human trafficking is not a priority for the Afghan government," he said, drawing on interviews with people working in the sector.

There is no court dedicated to hearing human trafficking cases, and little public education about trafficking and where people should go to report it, said Kandiwal.

"As long as there is no institution to implement it, I don't think there will be that much difference," he said from the eastern city of Jalalabad.

(Reporting by Jared Ferrie; Editing by Katy Migiro; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, resilience and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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