Child Soldiers in Afghanistan
Since the Taliban overthrew the Afghani central government in 2021, the nation has experienced increased human rights violations such as the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Afghanistan.

Rise of the Taliban

The Taliban, meaning “students” in Pashto, is a conservative political-religious movement founded during the 90s amid the Afghan War which lasted from 1978-1992. The group originated as a modest band of religious scholars and students whose aim was to fight crime and corruption in Afghanistan. After deposing the Soviet-sponsored government, the group went on to establish the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and institute rigid Islamic law significantly impacting women’s livelihoods, religious minorities and political opponents.

Current Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan

On August 15, 2021, the Taliban launched its campaign to take over Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Soon after the initial assault on September 7, 2021, the Islamic fundamentalist group declared itself as the interim government without communicating its plans for establishing a new central government. Since the hostile takeover, the U.N. has observed growing human rights violations, including forceful censorship of journalists and protestors, regression of women’s rights, worsening socio-economic conditions, an increase in child marriage and the recruitment of child soldiers.

Child Soldiers

The U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report identifies a state’s ability to combat human trafficking and assess the implementation of child soldiers. The Department of State reported Afghanistan as a “Tier 3” country, indicating failure to report cases of trafficking and a lack of serious reduction efforts.

The use of child soldiers in Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon. Before the insurgency, the Afghan government made an effort to address the symptoms of trafficking by developing awareness programs to prepare officials to respond to such cases. Through government-sanctioned Child Protection Units (CPUs), between April 2020 and March 2021, Afghani authorities thwarted the recruitment of more than 5,000 children into armed government groups and programs and identified 20 within the military.

However, the effects of the Taliban’s takeover and the COVID-19 pandemic have hindered the state’s capacity to protect, maintain or counter threats to civil liberties, including the use of children in the militia. Before and after the insurgency of August 15, 2021, the Taliban continued to illicitly use child soldiers in combative roles such as planting and setting off IEDs, carrying out suicide attacks, transporting weapons, standing guard and spying. The Taliban has ceased to investigate, prosecute or prevent cases of trafficking or recruiting. The Insurgent forces continue to eliminate shelters and protective services for victims, resulting in a more vulnerable population.

Without a centralized infrastructure or agency to provide services, Afghan children are more susceptible to recruitment and trafficking. The Taliban has made NGOs operating within Afghanistan useless as the group has imposed crippling restrictions on humanitarian aid, ransacked the few remaining shelters and threatened humanitarian staff. The Taliban has recruited children in Afghanistan from madrassas or religious schools. The children are indoctrinated and prepared to fight in exchange for protection. Moreover, the Taliban also targets children from Afghanistan’s more impoverished rural regions, exemplifying the role of poverty in the assimilation of children into the armed forces. Young boys living in dire economic circumstances see fighting as a means to a better life. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case.

The Road Ahead

It has been a year since the collapse of the central Afghan government, and conditions within the state remain concerning. Without proper protective and preventive services, children and women and girls remain Afghanistan’s most vulnerable. The U.N. has documented hundreds of human rights violations against children along with increased attacks on schools, hospitals and humanitarian shelters. The Taliban’s presence continues to exacerbate Afghanistan’s worsening socio-economic systems, poverty and food insecurity, thus, increasing the presence of child soldiers among their ranks.

The Taliban’s continued presence in Afghanistan and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain the biggest threat to the well-being of Afghan citizens. Thousands of children stay within the Taliban’s ranks serving in dangerous combative roles. With the U.N. and NGOs calling for urgent humanitarian aid, hope remains for a decrease in the number of children becoming child soldiers in Afghanistan.

– Ricardo Silva
Photo: Flickr

Child soldiers in Afghanistan
Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), using children under the age of 15 in combat is deemed a war crime because children can either end up dead or traumatized from their experience. Afghanistan is a party to the Rome Statute.

Furthermore, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict was ratified by Afghanistan in 2003 and states that people under the age of 18 may not be recruited by armed groups under any circumstances. It established the need to take measures, such as prohibition and criminalization of this action, to prevent the use of child soldiers. A violation of this is considered a breach of international law.


Conflict Creates Instability

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 in order to remove the Taliban from power. Although Kabul was reclaimed, the Taliban still controls some regions in Afghanistan and the war has continued. Additionally, the spread of the Islamic State’s presence in Afghanistan has aggravated the situation and increased the threat of terrorism. The decades of war and instability have created severe poverty and violence.

Child soldiers in Afghanistan are recruited on both sides of the conflict. Some Afghan children have even been recruited to fight in Syria. The Taliban has recruited child soldiers since the 1990s. Children participate in the war in many ways. They often are sent to combat, go on suicide missions, work in noncombat positions and serve as messengers or spies.

The Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Afghanistan

The Taliban has used Islamic religious schools to train children from a young age. They often begin studying religious subjects taught by Taliban teachers at age six and learn military skills around the age of 13. Usually, these kids are not taken by force. The Taliban schools are an attractive option for poor families since they provide food and clothing for the children.

Despite evidence of young boys participating in combat, the Taliban claims that to participate in military operations they have to prove “mental and physical maturity.” Although child soldiers in Afghanistan are mostly used by the Taliban, they are also used by the Afghan National Police as cooks and guards at checkpoints. Parents often do not oppose this since the boys could be the sole provider for their families.

Girls in the War

The number of girls considered to be child soldiers in Afghanistan is minimal. Danielle Bell, the head of the Human Rights Unit at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, addressed this when she said, “In five years of monitoring and reporting, the U.N. has verified one case of child recruitment of a girl who was a trained suicide bomber.” Although they are not trained as soldiers, girls are often taken and forced into sex slavery for military groups.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits the U.S. from giving military assistance to countries that use child soldiers. Jo Becker, the children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, has criticized the U.S. for ignoring child soldiers in Afghanistan, saying, “The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban.” Using children for military combat is both a violation of international law and a war crime and the United States government should take proper action against it.

– Luz Solano-Flórez
Photo: Flickr