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US adds Afghanistan to list of worst human traffickers over child sexual slavery, child soldiers

Afghan women and children. (U.S. Air Force illustration/Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. State Department has added Afghanistan to a list of nations doing little to stop human trafficking, saying Kabul has failed to properly address child sexual slavery and the recruitment of child soldiers.

In its annual Trafficking In Persons Report released on June 25, the department included Afghanistan in the so-called Tier 3 list of countries that do not meet minimum standards to stop trafficking and are “not making significant efforts” to do so.

During the reporting period, there was “a government policy or pattern of sexual slavery in government compounds (bacha bazi) and recruitment and use of child soldiers,” it said.

The ancient practice of “bacha bazi” — literally, dancing boys — is common practice in Afghanistan among wealthy and powerful men who exploit underage boys as sexual partners.

“Despite local officials’ widespread acknowledgement that many police, especially commanders at remote checkpoints, recruited boys for bacha bazi, some high-level and provincial authorities, including at the Ministry of Interior, categorically denied the existence of bacha bazi among police and would not investigate reports,” according to the State Department.

As a result, “the government has never prosecuted a police officer for bacha bazi.”

Some Steps Taken

Despite the lack of significant efforts, the Afghan government “took some steps to address trafficking, including continuing to identify trafficking victims, prosecuting and convicting some traffickers, including two perpetrators of bacha bazi for kidnapping, and conducting four trainings for provincial antitrafficking officers,” the report said.

The government has also increased the number of Child Protection Units at Afghan National Police recruitment centers, which the report said prevented the recruitment of 357 child soldiers.

However, the Interior and Defense Ministries, as well as the National Directorate of Security “denied that Afghan security forces recruited or used child soldiers, despite multiple cases,” it says.

Meanwhile, some trafficking victims reported that”authorities forced them to have sex in exchange for pursuing their cases or raped them and sent them to detention centers when they tried to report their traffickers,” the State Department says.

And many trafficking victims were arrested, detained, and penalized. Some of them were even punished for “moral crimes.”

Eighteen other countries are included in the report’s Tier 3 list, including Belarus, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan.

Inclusion in the lowest category can bring restrictions on U.S. non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance, a decision that would be made by the president.