In 2014, an unprecedented study of 210 stakeholders in Afghanistan, including 130 boys, found that on average one in 10 of the boys interviewed had experienced human trafficking. The study, Forgotten No More: Male Child Trafficking in Afghanistan, was conducted by HAGAR field researchers and funded by the U.S.Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons (TIP).
The study, which asked boys about their experience of human trafficking, highlights a profound lack of understanding of male child trafficking and the systematic failure to support survivors of trafficking. “In Afghanistan, a culture of honor and shame quickly buries discussions deemed shameful,” says Jane Thorson, Hagar Afghanistan’s Education and Technical Advisor. Thorson conducted field research for Forgotten No More in four Afghan provinces, including Kabul, Kunduz, Herat and Nangarhar. “The rights of male child victims and survivors in Afghanistan are consistently denied,” says Thorson.
Forgotten No More highlights the prevalence of bacha bazi (‘boy play’ in Persian), a form of child sexual slavery and prostitution in which young, prepubescent boys are recruited for dance and sexual entertainment, particularly at weddings. Fifty percent of sexual abuse cases documented in Forgotten No More were related to bacha bazi and the report found that dancing boys are more likely to be arrested than their recruiters.
Afghan boys are also regularly found to be sexually exploited in their roles as assistant truck drivers. In addition, boys living on the streets – or ending up in Juvenile Residential Centres (JRC) – were highly vulnerable to human trafficking.
Other key findings of the report
- Three main types of exploitation of male child survivors of trafficking were identified: sexual (including bacha bazi), forced labor and child recruitment for military groups.
- Multiple forms of exploitation were often found within cases.
- While services for survivors of trafficking in Afghanistan are limited in general, provisions for male child trafficking survivors do not exist and need to be developed urgently.
- Understanding of human trafficking continues to be plagued by confusion; male child survivors of trafficking are likely to be identified as ‘children in conflict with the law’ and referred to Juvenile Rehabilitation Centres (JRC) instead of seen as victims.
Combatting modern slavery
- “Modern slavery is a crime that victimizes men, women, and children around the world, and we need research to shine a light on every aspect of this issue. Hagar’s study is providing critically needed information about the trafficking of boys in Afghanistan which will help guide responses and interventions going forward,” said Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, of the U.S. Department of State’s TIP Office. “This sort of work builds on our understanding about aspects of modern slavery that are too often ignored. With the commitment of Hagar and others, we’ll be able to help bring more and more victims of modern slavery out of the darkness.”
The qualitative study began in October 2012 using existing gaps in knowledge as the starting point. Though reports by UNICEF and IOM in 2008 and the US Department of State in 2011 emphasised the vulnerability of boys in Afghanistan, Forgotten No More is the first research to focus entirely on male child trafficking in Afghanistan. “This study is a startling reminder that boys in Afghanistan are even more at risk than girls for trafficking. Even more startling is the severe lack of services and care for this cohort. Boys have been completely overlooked as an exploited group and lack any access to justice,” said Sara Shinkfield, Country Director, Hagar Afghanistan.
This research changes things,” said Thorson. “It puts the phrase ‘including boys’ under the microscope, establishes a baseline understanding of the extent and nature of male child trafficking in Afghanistan, and thereby provides service providers with the knowledge necessary to sharpen their programmes to address the real needs of male survivors of child trafficking in Afghanistan.”
The Forgotten No More report includes first-hand accounts of boys at-risk of and surviving trafficking – and its key recommendations focus on increasing awareness of male child trafficking and improvements in the protection of survivors, prevention of trafficking and prosecution of perpetrators:
Key recommendations included the introduction of male child trafficking education and early identification skills into training programs in existing Afghan law enforcement agencies. The prevention of trafficking through raising awareness of the issue with police and the wider community. Investment in recovery programmes for boy survivors of male child trafficking, as well as community-based recovery and awareness programmes in high-risk areas of the North.
Since the report was released, Hagar has established the first and only programme in the country for addressing this issue. Hagar works at an individual level to walk the whole journey with each boy who survives the trauma of being trafficked and abused and is also working at a governmental and systemic level to combat the trafficking of boys.