IWPR, April 20, 2018
Afghanistan: Child Abuse Going Unpunished
Locals turn to tribal mediation in the absence of access to formal justice processes
By Zulmai Ashna
Activists in the northeastern province of Takhar are warning that despite hundreds of cases of child sexual assault reported to the police each year, very few criminal investigations are ever opened.
They claim that not only are the police apparently reluctant to pursue cases, but that widespread corruption has also served to derail any access to justice. Issues of shame associated with these types of crime also mean that families of victims also often prefer to turn to tribal mediation and other informal justice processes.
As part of a two-month investigation, IWPR looked at 38 cases of alleged sexual assault on children carried out over a two-year period.
"Afghan dancing boys", a common practice among Afghan warlords. (Photo: BBC)
Most of the families of these victims complained to the police, but never had their cases referred to the attorney’s office.
Some instances involved the practice of keeping so-called dancing boys, known as “bacha bazi”. Condemned by rights activists and clerics, this custom involves older men making young boys perform at private parties, after which they are often sexually abused.
Psychologist Waseem Rahel told IWPR that the practice of bacha bazi was partly responsible for the cases of child sexual abuse, exacerbated by high rates of poverty and large families with many children to support.
Hayatullah Mawlawizada has headed the Takhar police children’s rights support unit for the last four years. He said he believed that many accused attackers had influence with officials in the criminal investigation department, meaning that they avoided prosecution.
“Takhar’s police prefer personal relations to justice, and that means people don’t trust law enforcement,” he said, adding that a lack of oversight by the ministry of interior affairs allowed this practice to continue year after year.
“Opposing police justice is a clear violation of the laws,” he continued.
Mawlawizada estimated that as many as 400 cases of child sexual assault were reported across the province each year.
However, local police units, generally failed to pursue these reports, preferring to refer them to tribal mediation instead. As a result, he said, only ten to 15 cases were registered each year.
Some cases are prosecuted, but end with the assailant receiving a very light sentence.
Sharafatullah, (not his real name) a 13-year-old from Guzar-e-Marshal Fahim in Taluqan city told IWPR that he had been assaulted after leaving his home on the evening of December 23, 2017 to visit relatives in Balak Wartebz village. On the way there he met Naqeebullah, the owner of a bakery shop, who told him it was too late in the day to travel to a remote village and invited him to stay at his shop. New to the area, the boy said that he felt he had no other choice but to accept, and when they arrived at the bakery Naqeebullah offered him some food and drink.
“When it was night and I wanted to sleep, Naqeebullah came to my bed and told me that he wanted to stay with me because the weather was cold and together we would be warm in bed. Then he asked me to have anal sex with him. I said no but he raped me,” Sharafatullah said.
Naqeebullah was arrested after a community member alerted the police. Fareeda Shijaee, Naqeebullah’s defence lawyer, told IWPR that Takhar’s primary court had sentenced her client to four months in prison on March 17, 2018.
Another boy, 12-year-old Shahabuddin (not his real name) from Jeetbar village in Takhar’s Chal district, told IWPR that he had been assaulted by a local youth on the morning of November 21, 2017 as he walked to the mosque. He said that 19-year-old Mirwais forced him to go with him into an abandoned building.
“I screamed and shouted, but no one heard me and then Mirwais took my trousers off and raped me,” Shahabuddin said.
The boy’s mother told IWPR that she had found her son unconscious and bleeding. The family informed the police about the attack and Shahabuddin underwent a medical examination that verified the assault.
Najeebullah Sabori, a prosecutor with Takhar’s primary court, said that Mirwais had been sentenced to three years in prison for sexual assault on December 31, 2017.
As in Mirwais’ case, alleged assaults are often referred to the provincial forensic medical department for tests to verify that an assault had taken place.
But Atta Mohammad Shafiq, head of forensic medicine at Takhar’s department of public health, said that he had personally been put under pressure several times not to report confirmed evidence of abuse.
Shafiq said that they had recorded 97 cases of child sexual abuse in the last year. Out of these, 55 were cases of sexual assault on girls and 42 on boys. Many had occurred in the villages of Takhar province.
Shafiq said that until a year ago they had lacked any processes to record the number of cases of assault, so he was unable to provide figures for previous years. The ministry of public health in Kabul had not asked them to keep records either.
But he said he believed around 100 cases of child sexual abuse were referred to them each year.
Shafiq said that if their tests confirmed that a child had indeed been abused, the finding were supposed to be sent to the tTakhar’s attorney office. There, however, officials had in the past put pressure on him to alter the results.
“The prosecutors threatened and pressured me to show positive forensic results as negative, and I had to do this, although I don’t want to,” Shafiq said.
Syed Akbar, head of the Takhar’s lawyers’ union, told IWPR that the number of child sexual abuse cases in Takhar was far higher than any official figures showed. He said that shame over sexual assault also meant that most incidents were never reported.
“I assume that rape and sexual assault cases aren’t referred to judiciary and justice sectors. So justice isn’t served and done and the rights of victims are violated,” Akbar said.
IWPR made seven requests for an interview with Mohammad Ghaws Amiri, chief of Takhar’s attorney appellate office, to ask him about the concerns raised by Shafiq. However, Amiri refused to speak to IWPR.
This report was produced under IWPR’s Supporting Investigative Reporting in Local Media and Strengthening Civil Society across Afghanistan initiative, funded by the British Embassy Kabul.
Characters Count: 7658