Afghanistan should develop mechanisms to raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking, support victims and prosecute perpetrators, say rights activists.
"We see it as an alarming problem because a huge number of women and children are vulnerable to trafficking in the country,” Hussain Nussrat, child rights programme coordinator with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), said. “The victims are exploited both inside and outside the country for forced labour, prostitution, drug selling and many more illegal activities.”
Most victims, according to a July AIHRC report, are women and children who lack parental care, live in poverty or are forced into early marriage. The report was based on a study covering victims of trafficking, family members and the public in 20 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.
Most of those trafficked were girls who had been married before reaching the legal age of marriage, the report said. About 81 percent got married before 18, of whom about 50 percent were married when they were under 15. About 29 percent were forced into marriage after being raped, kidnapped, harassed or exposed to violence, said the report which identified 1,889 cases of trafficking in women and children.
Afghanistan, according to the US Department of State's 2011 trafficking report, is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.
Sixty percent of those trafficked were inside Afghanistan while 40 percent were taken to Iran, Pakistan and a few other countries. In Iran most trafficked persons are boys who are addicted to drugs, do hard work on farms and factories, or are sexually exploited. In Pakistan women and girls are forced to weave carpets and to engage in sex work, AIHRC said.
"Generally due to the conservative, male-dominated society, women and girls are more the victims of trafficking than boys," Nussrat told IRIN in Kabul.
Gulnaz*, 18, was forced to marry the man who raped her, who was also addicted to drugs, when she was only 15. Then she was taken to Iran and forced into commercial sex work to make money for her husband.
“He used to beat me up very badly every day besides forcing me to make money for him,” Gulnaz was quoted as saying in the AIHRC report. “After a year or so he sold me to an Iranian drug seller for a huge amount of money before my family found out about it in Afghanistan and my mother came to Iran to rescue me."
According to the report, more than half of the victims had been deprived of parental support; nearly 17 percent were housewives, and 7 percent beggars, street children.
More than half of the victims' families had no stable income, while a third of victims were trafficked after being tricked. Most victims were abused and exploited by the traffickers during and after the transfer operation.
Among boys taken to Iran, 70 percent ended up in domestic work or agriculture, and 6 percent reported involvement in sex work. In Pakistan 30 percent of the girls are sexually exploited. Interestingly, 40 percent did not want to return home citing insecurity, fear of losing their life and prestige, unemployment, poverty and political instability.
Most perpetrators are not prosecuted. According to the report, only 17 percent of respondents reported the arrest of a perpetrator, while only 13 percent knew of a perpetrator who had been punished. Those involved include local powerful people, domestic and international organized groups, the Taliban and opposition groups.
“We are deeply concerned about the findings of the report," Nussrat said, especially because poverty is still widespread, ongoing conflict is leaving children without parents and early/forced marriages are still practised widely.
According to the International Labour Organization, more than 12 million people are trafficked each year worldwide. An estimated 70 percent of those trafficked are females under 25.
*not her real name