Lack of institutional mechanisms to tackle human trafficking

Destitute Afghan children.
(Akmal Dawi/IRIN)

For Ali Shah Paktiawal, a senior police official dealing with social crimes in Kabul, it is not very important whether his country has any specific law against human trafficking or not.

[This story is also available as a radio report in the Dari language.]

However, he said police had arrested over 10 trafficking gangs who trafficked people within Afghanistan and abroad in 2007.

“It [human trafficking] is a crime and we are fighting against it,” Paktiawal, a military expert, told IRIN on 18 July.

According to Paktiawal, among trafficking victims were tens of Afghan children, boys and girls, who had been taken to neighbouring countries for forced servitude, sexual exploitation and other illegal purposes.

Inside Afghanistan, traffickers use their minor victims for narcotics smuggling and hard labour, Afghan police said.

“Adult Afghans also fall prey to traffickers, due to widespread poverty and unemployment. The traffickers mostly exploit their victims in the regional [labour] markets,” said Paktiawal.

An official at Afghanistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also confirmed that hundreds of young Afghans are annually trafficked to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries where they are widely exploited and used in complex forced servitude.

''How can traffickers get their victims through borders without police and other security forces knowing about them?''

Institutional shortcomings

Afghanistan does not provide minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, say experts. The country is yet to draft its first anti-trafficking law.

Lack of a specific law to deal with human trafficking and punish traffickers, coupled with weak judicial institutions, has raised questions about the country’s anti-trafficking commitments.

“In the absence of specific legislation and prosecution - not to mention the widespread lack of awareness - the situation for victims of trafficking has got very complicated,” said Nigina Mamadjonova, an expert working for the UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Afghanistan.

In its annual report on human trafficking in the world, Trafficking in Persons 2007, the US State Department called on the government of Afghanistan to enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law and increase its law enforcement efforts against internal trafficking.

Lack of proper legislation, however, is not Afghanistan’s only problem.

Corruption is yet another alarming issue, which has enabled many traffickers to smuggle their victims through local and international borders undisturbed, some observers say.

“How can traffickers get their victims through borders without police and other security forces knowing about them?” asked Mamadjonova.

Afghan children are particularly vulnerable to international trafficking.

In 2006 about 200 Afghan children were repatriated from Saudi Arabia where they were used in a “camel riding” play, according to the Trafficking in Persons report.

IOM also identified 100 non-Afghan victims, most of them Chinese citizens, who were used in the sex trade in Kabul. All victims were assisted to repatriate to their countries of origin.

Although neither the Afghan government nor non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that support victims of trafficking have accurate data on human trafficking in the war-ravaged country, the practice has been deemed “widespread”.

Protecting victims

Many victims, particularly young women who experience sexual exploitation, do not have adequate access to legal services in Afghanistan, experts say.

Cultural mores and conservative traditions not only deprive many victims of social protection and help, but lead to different punishments for sexually exploited female victims, reported Trafficking in Persons, published in June.

“Afghanistan should take immediate steps to end the arrest and incarceration of trafficking victims and should work with NGOs to establish a formal victim identification and referral mechanism,” the report said.

In an effort to raise public awareness of human trafficking, IOM has decided to publish 20,000 brochures to educate children on the risks of trafficking.

“Awareness can play a critical role in countering human trafficking,” said Mamadjonova whose organisation also trained 35 Afghan schoolteachers on child trafficking in April.

Meanwhile, the government of Italy has funded the construction of a shelter for children who fall prey to traffickers. About 40 children at any one time will be able to receive free board and lodging, psychological counselling and reintegration assistance in the shelter which is expected to be open by the end of 2007.

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