Afghan government urged to release children detained for alleged association with armed groups

By Laxman Datt Pant

Afghan government urged to release children detained for alleged association with armed groups

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged the Afghan government to release children detained for their alleged association with armed insurgent groups and called on the United Nations for cooperation to develop a program to reintegrate hundreds of affected children into society.

An HRW report prepared ahead of a high-level session of the United Nations Security Council on Afghanistan on June 22 pointed out that 146 boys were detained in juvenile rehabilitation centers in 2019 while 506 children, reportedly including foreigners, were transferred to the Kabul juvenile rehabilitation center. Since 2015, an average of 180 children per year have been detained in juvenile rehabilitation while hundreds more have been detained in facilities run by government security forces, HRW disclosed in its report.

The children are charged with “vaguely worded terrorism crimes” and could face up to 15 years in prison. Many have been detained simply because of their parents’ alleged involvement with rebel groups, the HRW stated, without ruling out that they are subjected to torture even more often than adults.

The report revealed that:

  • Approximately 44% of the children interviewed by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in 2019-2020 provided credible accounts of torture or ill-treatment compared with roughly 32% for all detainees
  • Random interviews by UNAMA found children as young as 10 were being detained in military or security facilities
  • In 2020, approximately 5,000 Taliban prisoners were released as a result of the peace talks and none of these were children
  • Children detained for conflict-related reasons were also excluded from the release of prisoner releases that was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a conversation with DevelopmentAid, Jo Becker, Children’s Rights Advocacy Director for HRW, said that the continued detention and abuse would not prevent future violence.

“The detaining and torturing of children is inhumane and counterproductive. Hence parties concerned about Afghanistan’s future should prioritize the release and reintegration of children detained for alleged association with armed groups and ensure that protecting children is high on the agenda of the peace talks,” she emphasized.

Underscoring that child protection should be a priority in Afghanistan’s peace talks, Becker urged for the release of all children from detention and to work with the United Nations and donors to establish programs for their reintegration into society.

“Most urgently, the Afghan government needs to work with the UN and donors to set up a reintegration program to trace children’s families, assess if it is safe for the children to return home, and facilitate schooling or vocational training,” she said.

The Afghan government needs to set up a protocol to arrange for the immediate transfer of children from military custody to civilian child protection authorities, Becker told DevelopmentAid.

The HRW report also revealed that children were often kept in military facilities in violation of Afghan law and were forced to sign documents involuntarily including confessions. Under Afghan law, children under age 18 are supposed to only be detained in juvenile rehabilitation facilities. Contrary to this, many children have been detained by the police or intelligence service either before being eventually transferred to a juvenile center or for the duration of their sentence.

The HRW has recommended that all parties introduce an explicit agreement to end the six grave violations against children that include killing and maiming, recruitment and use, sexual violence, abduction, attacks on schools and hospitals, and the denial of humanitarian access.

According to a report by the UN Security Council, during the Afghan conflict that began in the late 1970s, the Taliban, rebel groups, and even Afghan security forces have recruited thousands of children for combat and support purposes which runs counter to international law. Children have been used to conduct suicide attacks, to plant explosive devices, and to participate in hostilities. Despite these atrocities, so far Afghanistan has failed to put in place a reintegration program for the children allegedly associated with armed groups.