Channel 4 News, June 23, 2009

Afghanistan’s smuggler children

One child told us: “Only children can get this over the border. The man I work for [knows this] and beats me if I refuse to take it.”

Nima Elbagir travels to Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, where a programme to eradicate opium production has led to an upsurge of child smugglers.

The road to Tsasubi village runs on to the Afghan border with Pakistan. It’s one of the major trafficking routes in and out of the country.

On the day we make the drive up it’s past 12 by the time we turn on to the dirt track leading to the village, but even in the full glare of the midday sun stolen tyres stood stacked by the roadside. And we have a few close calls, narrowly avoiding several truck and horse convoys on their way back from Pakistani markets.

Due to great rise in flour prices, everyday hundreds of children and young people bring 3 or 4 kilograms of flour from the other side of the border. The children who are aged between 5 to 12 years, say that they are forced to go to the other side of the border to buy themselves flour. They claimed that the police at the border beat them and they are able to bring only a small amount of flour with them. Some of them say that they are the only people earning for their families. Many children also say that the Pakistani patrols take away their flour.
Tolo TV (Translated by RAWA), May 2, 2008

We have come to Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan. Five years ago Nangarhar was one of the top three opium-producing provinces in Afghanistan - a pretty impressive achievement when you consider that Afghanistan as a whole is responsible for producing 90 per cent of the world’s opium.

An eradication drive has been successfully pushed through, at least in the secure parts of the province. And last year the then US president, George Bush, held a high-profile press conference celebrating Nangarhar’s “poppy free” status, lauding US cooperation with the Afghan government and its funding of economic and social development.

But the villages along this border are still mired in poverty.

In Tsasubi, village elders told us that forced to abandon poppy farming, and receiving no help in creating alternative livelihoods, they had turned to smuggling.

But between the Taliban and the border police it is too dangerous for the adults, so it is the children that go. The entire village is reliant on reselling the flour their children smuggle in from Pakistan.

Since a 2007 ban on wheat exports from Pakistan to Afghanistan, wheat smuggling has become big business here and flourishes on child labour.

Further down the border at Torkham town, a dusty road lined with “duty free” kiosks leads to the official crossing. Children as young as seven or eight drag sacks of flour past our cameras, dodging around guards on their way to hand 20kg sacks to the businessmen who had rented them for the day.

Even here, in full view of the authorities, children were smuggling to support their families.

One child told us: “Only children can get this over the border. The man I work for [knows this] and beats me if I refuse to take it.”

At the end of the day the children head to the nearby car park to hand over the goods to their employers. They make the equivalent of 16 US cents a trip and on an average day they make three or four trips in order to earn enough for their families to eat.

The situation here is very insecure. We had to leave well before the sun set and the roads became impassable. Roadside bombs and attacks are a regular occurrence. In the last week alone two aid organisations were attacked by Taliban patrols and nine people were killed.

The insecurity has further isolated the people along this border and the chances of the promises of aid made to them being fulfilled grow even less likely.

They told us they feel like they have kept their side of the bargain and been left with nothing.

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