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The Killid Group

Kidnapping: Lost childhoods

Written by
Saturday, 29 May 2010 15:05

Kidnapping: Lost childhoods


One of the under-reported impacts of the ongoing conflict in this country is its fallout on children. The incidence of kidnapping of children has been growing exponentially every year as the conflict intensifies along with links to criminality.

According to Assadullah Habib, the head of the Afghan Child Protection Network in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs(MoLSA), "the number of instances of kidnapping of children was 500 in 2007, 1,459 in 2008 and 2,164 in 2009. The Child Protection Network, which is a network established under MoLSA with the help of USAID and UNICEF, has begun working in 50 districts in 28 provinces, but the growing number of kidnappings illustrates the challenges facing the authorities.

Most of the incidents related to kidnapping of children centre around ransom demands though there are also a substantial number of children being trafficked in order to be sexually abused or used as child soldiers or suicide bombers. In most instances, the parents of the child pay up and in many cases, where they have been unable to do so, the child is killed by the kidnappers in order to increase fear and terror in society, thus pressurizing other parents to pay up promptly.

Mustafa, a 12-year old boy, was kidnapped from District 13 in Kabul city last year and killed after his family was unable to meet the demand for 2 million Afghanis (approximately $40,000). Mustafa's parents are still terrified and refused to talk about the kidnappers or provide any other information because they are fearful that the same fate could befall other members of the family. However their agony is palpable. "I am not going to forget how they killed my son by hitting his head with a stone" says Mustafa's father.

While few people are willing to go on record with details about the kidnappers and the gangs, there is plenty of corroborative evidence and anecdotal data to suggest that kidnapping has emerged as a lucrative business.  Engineer Haroun Anis, a resident of Kabul cites an unnamed kidnapper, as saying: "Our chief has given us orders, saying that even if we cannot kidnap rich people, we can kidnap even a poor vendor if it possible. Because however poor people are, they will be able to pay at least $2000."

Fear and terror prevalent

Criminal gangs which carry out such kidnappings have a large reach and can operate throughout the country through well-established networks. In Herat province, a local elder was threatened that his son would be kidnapped if he did not pay $200,000 within five days. Though the family came to Kabul as a precaution, the kidnappers were able to find and kidnap the son in Kabul. Eventually his son managed to escape.

Increasing insecurity has also meant that in many parts of the country parents have withdrawn their children from school rather than risk the threat of kidnapping or other violence. Where they still send their children to school, they do so with a great deal of trepidation.

Hanifa, the mother of two children, is terrified of sending her son to school because of the fear of kidnapping. "My son is studying in class 2 and when he goes to school I am very concerned about him. I have heard on the radio that school students are being poisoned and kidnapped on their way."

Both of Hanifa's sons are frightened by this atmosphere. Her school-going child does not trust anyone she says. "He is afraid of speaking with people on the way home and even my other son, who is two years old, falls silent whenever he hears the word "kidnapper".

"One of the main consequences of this fear is the extraordinary emotional change children undergo. It deprives them of their freedom and childhood pleasures such as playing" says Mohammad Zahir Abasi, a psychologist.  A child, he say, requires a peaceful environment in order to provide him emotional stability. A child growing up with fear, anger and emotional instability can become socially maladjusted and seek to expend the pent up anger and frustration by anti-social activities later on in life.

Other violations

Apart from kidnapping for ransom, there is also a substantial number of children being subjected to other forms of violence. The 2009 annual report of UN says that more than 1000 children were killed and injured and among them 131 were killed in operations by international military forces.

Ali Reza Rohani, Law Senior Advisor to the Afghan Independent Human Rights draws attention to the obligations of the Afghan government regarding protection of the rights of children. Mr. Rohani says international conventions recognize everyone under 18 years as a child, a period of growth and vulnerability.

Action by authorities

There are some instances where the police have acted effectively to free kidnapped children. In June last year, when three students were kidnapped in Ghor province, they were rescued through a police operation. Abdul Karim, a resident of Nimruz province was kidnapped in Herat province and his family asked for a ransom of $500,000. But the police was able to rescue him.

The Afghan president has vowed to intensify and increase counter-kidnapping measures and policies through his order in 2003. Additionally, there is a department to counter organized crimes including human trafficking. When caught and tried, the perpetrators are sentenced to long-term imprisonment, and even capital punishment, but the increasing instances of kidnapping point to the ineffectiveness of officials. The Ministry of Interior was not available for comment.

What is worrying is that in some areas, people have come to see the period of the Taliban, when rule of law was strictly enforced, as a period of relative calm.

"There were kidnappings at the time of civil war (mujahideen time between 1992-1996). It decreased as the time of Taliban, but it increased significantly at the time of current regime", a Helmand resident said on condition of anonymity.

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