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IOM, September 13, 2008

Trafficking in Persons in Afghanistan: Field Survey Report

Children are not only sexually abused or exploited for cheap labour, but also used for criminal activities such as smuggling of small arms and drugs.

Executive Summary of the "Trafficking in Persons in Afghanistan", a survey by International Organization for Migration (IOM):

Trafficking in persons is a crime that can impair a personality and even destroy a human life and it gravely affects today’s Afghanistan as a source, transit and destination country. The traffickers ruthlessly exploit men, women and children by violating their basic human rights and this modern-day form of slavery continues to thrive with impunity.

This research, the first of its kind, aims to provide an in-depth analysis of the trafficking phenomenon in, from and to Afghanistan, based on first-hand data, with a view towards developing effective counter trafficking strategies in the future. Research data was collected mainly from expert interviews and a field survey conducted in Kabul and nine border provinces, namely Khost, Nangarhar, Herat, Balkh, Faryab, Kunduz, Badakhshan, Kandahar and Farah, from July to September 2007. A total of 220 community informants, 20 victims of trafficking, 43 victims of kidnapping and 19 smuggled migrants were interviewed. The non- personal data of 115 victims of trafficking referred to and assisted by IOM between 2006 and 2007 was also used in the analysis, based on IOM’s case record.

There are numerous factors making Afghan people extremely vulnerable to trafficking: more than two decades of conflict and the subsequent loss of lives and livelihoods, prolonged economic instability and deteriorating insecurity, to name a few examples.

There are additional factors such as the common occurrence of violence against women, including forced marriage, rendering women particularly vulnerable. Children are another large pool of potential “targets” for trafficking with widespread poverty compelling up to one third of Afghan children to work in order to augment their family income. The majority of them are exposed to adverse working conditions outside of any protective mechanism. Afghanistan is facing a mass population displacement. Many of the displaced persons have no secure place to stay and end up living in camps or open areas deprived of any basic social services or means of livelihood. Women and children living under these conditions are particularly at risk of being trafficked.

Afghanistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude.
US State Department Trafficking Report, June 12, 2007

Excerpts from the survey:

Due to economic reasons, the sale of children by destitute families, including their own parents, is commonly seen in Afghanistan. In January 2008 alone, there were reports on the sale of three girls in separate incidents by parents blaming extreme poverty for their actions and it has sparked concern about the safety of poor children in the country31. In early January, a displaced family in Shaydayee camp in Herat province is reported to have sold one of their twin four-month old daughters for USD 40. On 28 January, the parents of a nine-month old girl in Kunduz province sold their daughter for USD 10. The mother’s lower limbs were paralysed while the father was said to be sick and unable to work. In neighbouring Takhar province, another nine-month old girl was sold for USD 240. All the parents denied any wrong doing but explained their inability to feed their children. On the other hand, those who bought the children also felt they had done nothing wrong as they intended to protect the children from extreme poverty.


Sexual exploitation of boys can be found in Afghanistan. These boys are known as boys without beard, or bacha bereesh, and kept by adult men, often considered powerful in society. They are not only made to dance in social gatherings and parties, but also sexually abused in many instances. It is an age old practice that has led to some of the boy dancers being turned into sex slaves by wealthy patrons who dress the boys up as girls, shower them with gifts and keep them as ‘mistresses.’ It has been reported by many community informants that certain people consider having a good looking bacha bereesh even as some sort of a status symbol. Some of these boys are victims of trafficking.


A 15-year-old boy was kidnapped from Pakistan while working. He was then brought to the Northern region through the land border crossing point between Afghanistan and Pakistan by traffickers. In the destination province, he was forced to work. One day he finally escaped but got arrested by the police. The local commander took him home and made him work as a servant and perform dancing at wedding parties for his friends. He was also sexually exploited occasionally. The boy was made to wear the army uniform and accompany the commander in public. His freedom of movement was limited and the commander behaved as if the boy was his own property. He finally found a chance to run away and went back to Pakistan with IOM’s assistance. (IOM case record)


The cases of sexual exploitation collected during the survey cover three different patterns of violation: 1) forced prostitution where the victim is forced into prostitution and the perpetrator makes profit out of the act, 2) sexual servitude and assault where the victim is physically molested or raped by the traffickers, and 3) forced marriage, including child marriage. All three Afghan female respondent Victims of Trafficking were trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The IOM caseload also confirms that women are particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. All Chinese victims were women and nearly all except one person were sexually exploited in Afghanistan, most of which cases involved forced prostitution. Among the remaining Afghan, Iranian and Pakistani victims, nine out of 13 female victims were subjected to sexual exploitation.


Aisha, a 15-year-old girl, was living with her family in a refugee camp in Pakistan. One day she went shopping to a nearby store and found two persons waiting for her return on her way home. They forcibly took her in their car, beat her until she lost consciousness and drove away. When she woke up, she was in a house with the traffickers and had no idea how many hours they had travelled. They continued to beat and rape her for the next four days. She had no chance of escape and was then transported to a city in the Southeast region through a land crossing border. In the city, she was again detained in a house and subjected to physical and sexual assaults for 15 days. One day the traffickers forgot to lock the house when they went out to buy some food and Aisha took the opportunity to run away. She was handed over to MoWA by the local police and safely returned to Pakistan and her family. (IOM case record, 2008)


An eight year old Afghan girl was kidnapped in the Southern region in August 2006. She was later found dead in a house in the same province. The autopsy revealed that she was first sexually abused and then burnt to death. (Field survey in Kandahar, 2007)


At the age of 12, Tamina was sold to a trafficker on a false promise for a marriage. The woman sedated her by giving her a drink, which seemed like water. When the girl recovered, she found herself in Pakistan, where she was kept in the basement and used as a prostitute for four years. She didn’t have any income from the work and had no freedom of movement. In 2006, she was then transferred to Kabul for the same purpose. One day there was a police raid in the establishment where she was working and she was put in the prison. (IOM case record, 2006)


Children are not only sexually abused or exploited for cheap labour, but also used for criminal activities such as smuggling of small arms and drugs. This is particularly so across the border to Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. People move over the hills, or work in the transport business. With the increase in poppy cultivation more youth are being drawn to this lucrative business, which ensures quick payment in cash. Some end up being trafficked.

Category: Women, Children, HR Violations, Poverty, Refugees/IDPs - Views: 24213


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