By Karim Amini
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has expressed its concerns about reports that the Afghan government recently exchanged 22 children born to militants fighting in Afghanistan for the freedom of 19 hostages being held by insurgents in Zabul and Ghazni provinces. The international advocacy group has demanded the government shed light on the matter.
The concerns expressed by HRW officials have been echoed by Afghan lawmakers in Parliament and civil society activists, who called the swapping of children for hostages a gross violation of the children's rights.
Based on what has been discussed by President Ashraf Ghani and others involved in the hostage negotiations, the 22 kids were offspring of Uzbek militants fighting in Afghanistan who had been cared for by the Afghan government in the absence of their parents. After weeks of secretive negotiations, they were then traded back to the militants who had kidnapped 31 Hazara travelers along the Kabul-Kandahar highway at the start of the year.
"Some children were taken under the control of the National Directorate of Security (NDS) and were in guesthouses," President Ghani explained. "These individuals did not have any guardians, and these talks provided a path for their future."
HRW denies having any prior knowledge of the deal brokered between the government and the militants. A senior adviser to HRW told TOLOnews that such a deal, if not in the best interest of the kids, would be against international law.
"No matter where the children were from or whose they are, as they were children and are vulnerable, they should have been protected here as it is an Islamic country," MP Shahla Fareed said on Monday. "Children should not have been included in the political issues and should not have been exchanged for hostages."
Parliament's Youth Commission Chairman, Naqeebullah Fayeq, expressed concerns about the kids being turned into terrorists. "When the parents of these children were killed by doing suicide bombings and now their companions are asking for their children, these children will end up in the same camps and will be trained as terrorists," he said.
The Afghan Taliban, along with other terrorist groups fighting in Afghanistan, such as the Haqqani Network, are known to recruit at a very young age. Madrassas in Pakistan, long known to be the breeding and training ground for militants bound for Afghanistan, are home to thousands of young kids who are funneled into violence at impressionable ages.
"The government of Afghanistan is using children in military exchanges as war victims where they will be trained as suicide bombers," civil society activist Aziz Rafiee said on Monday. "We unfortunately have the largest number of child suicide bombers in Afghanistan."
The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has also condemned the exchange. "The Independent Human Rights Commission has had observations and has promptly criticized it. We call for the prevention of such acts by the government in the future," AIHRC member Latifa Sultani said.
In addition to the 22 children, four adult women were also part of the deal for the release of the 19 traveler hostages. The children were all said to be below the age of 10.