Afghanistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. The majority of Afghan victims are children subjected to human trafficking in carpet-making and brick kiln factories and domestic servitude, and in commercial sexual exploitation, begging, and transnational drug smuggling within Afghanistan and in Pakistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Some Afghan families knowingly sell their children for forced prostitution, including for bacha baazi—where wealthy or influential men, including government officials and security forces, use young boys for social and sexual entertainment. Other families send their children through labor brokers for employment, but the children end up in forced labor. Opium-farming families sometimes sell their children to settle debts with opium traffickers. According to the government and the UN, insurgent groups force older children to serve as suicide bombers. Some Afghan families are trapped in debt bondage in the brick-making industry in eastern Afghanistan.
Increasing numbers of men, women, and children in Afghanistan pay intermediaries to assist them in finding employment in Iran, Pakistan, India, Europe, or North America; some of these intermediaries force Afghan citizens into labor or prostitution after their arrival. Afghan women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution and domestic servitude in Pakistan, Iran, and India. Afghan boys and men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agriculture and construction sectors in Iran, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey, and the Gulf states. There were reports of women and girls from the Philippines, Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, and China subjected to sex trafficking in Afghanistan. Under the pretense of high-paying employment opportunities, labor recruiting agencies lure foreign workers to Afghanistan, including from Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Iran, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Traffickers also recruit Afghan villagers to Afghan cities and then sometimes subject them to forced labor or forced prostitution after their arrival.
The Government of Afghanistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Afghanistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fourth consecutive year. Afghanistan was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and would devote sufficient resources to implement that plan. During the reporting period, the Afghan government recorded the first known convictions of trafficking offenders under its 2008 law. The government continued, however, to penalize and re-victimize trafficking victims for offenses committed in the course of being trafficked. Government officials’ complicity in trafficking remained a serious problem. The level of understanding of human trafficking among Afghan government officials remained very low.
Recommendations for Afghanistan: Eliminate police and court penalization of trafficking victims for offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution or adultery; increase use by law enforcement of the 2008 anti-trafficking law, including prosecuting suspected traffickers and convicting trafficking offenders; consider amending the 2008 anti-trafficking law to prohibit and penalize all forms of trafficking in persons; investigate and prosecute government officials suspected of being complicit in human trafficking; strengthen the High Commission for Combating Crimes of Abduction and Human Trafficking/Smuggling, and implement the anti-trafficking national action plan; educate government officials, including law enforcement and judicial officials, on the definition of human trafficking as well as protection and law enforcement strategies; segregate older and younger boys in trafficking shelters to prevent the abuse of younger boys; strengthen the capacity of the ministry of interior’s anti-trafficking/smuggling unit, including by ensuring the unit is fully staffed and differentiating between smuggling and trafficking; undertake initiatives to prevent trafficking, such as running a public awareness campaign to warn at-risk populations of the dangers of trafficking, and encourage religious leaders to incorporate anti-trafficking messaging in religious teachings; improve efforts to collect, analyze, and accurately report counter-trafficking data; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Afghanistan improved anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the reporting period, though official complicity in human trafficking remained a problem. Afghanistan’s 2008 Law Countering Abduction and Human Trafficking/Smuggling, along with Article 516 of the penal code, prohibits many, but not all, forms of human trafficking. Government officials, including law enforcement and judicial officials, continued to have a limited understanding of human trafficking. In Dari—the language spoken most widely in Afghanistan—the same word denotes both human trafficking and human smuggling, compounding the confusion. The law prescribes between eight and 15 years’ imprisonment for persons convicted of some forms of labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to life imprisonment for those convicted of some forms of sex trafficking. The 2009 Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) law and other provisions of the penal code contain penalties for most forms of trafficking. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate to those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The attorney general’s office reported the convictions of four Afghan and Pakistani men who forced four Pakistani women into prostitution. The first-level court’s verdict, which sentenced the four trafficking offenders to 20 years’ imprisonment, was upheld by the appellate court. These are the first known convictions under the government’s anti-trafficking law. A husband was convicted under the EVAW law for killing his wife because she refused to engage in prostitution. He was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, and his accomplice, a male child, was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. International organizations and NGOs continued to provide training to police, prosecutors, and other government officials on identifying and investigating trafficking cases. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and Ministry of Justice provided venues and provincial government trainers for some of the programs.
Government employees’ complicity in human trafficking remained a serious problem. Reports indicated that government officials, including commanders of the Afghan National Security Forces and provincial governors, were complicit in the practice of bacha baazi. There have been reports that national and border police facilitated trafficking and raped sex trafficking victims. Police at the western border with Iran routinely collaborated with child traffickers and let traffickers pass through the border controls with their victims. An Afghan National Army (ANA) sergeant was convicted and sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment under the EVAW law for forcing his wife into prostitution; clients were local power brokers and ANA colleagues. There were no other reports of investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period.
The Government of Afghanistan did not make discernible progress in protecting victims of trafficking. Afghanistan did not develop or employ systematic procedures to identify victims of trafficking or refer them to protective services. However, some provincial and federal government agencies worked with international organizations at border crossing points with Iran to identify potential victims and refer them to protective services. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, Martyrs, and the Disabled (MOLSAMD) owns three short-term trafficking shelters, which were operated by IOM and partner NGOs and paid for by a foreign government. MOLSAMD was responsible for the registration of victims and the security of the facilities, while the vast majority of victim assistance was provided by the NGOs. Multiple NGOs noted good cooperation with the MOLSAMD. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) oversaw a number of NGO-operated and foreign government-funded shelters that provided services to women, including trafficking victims. NGOs reported that MOWA placed restrictions on the freedom of movement of some female trafficking victims in these shelters. Child trafficking victims were sometimes placed in shelters or orphanages; there have been reports that older boys sexually abused younger boys in shelters. Funding gaps impeded more effective protection efforts. IOM reported it assisted 284 victims during the reporting period, the majority of whom were boys and 150 of whom were referred by the Afghan government. There was no evidence that the government encouraged victims to assist in investigations of their traffickers during the reporting period.
Government officials punished victims of trafficking for acts they may have committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Afghan officials continued to arrest, imprison, or otherwise punish female trafficking victims for prostitution or adultery or for escaping from husbands who had forced them into prostitution, even if the destination was a shelter. In the reporting period, government officials from several ministries issued statements emphasizing that running away is not considered a crime in the Afghan legal system; however, these practices continued. NGOs reported instances of child trafficking victims placed in juvenile detention centers, sometimes for several years. Officials often placed trafficked women who could not be accommodated in shelters in prison. Some trafficked boys were placed in a facility for juvenile criminals, and trafficked adult men were incarcerated, in part because they could not stay in shelters. The government does not have a policy that provides relief from deportation for foreign victims of trafficking who may face retribution or hardship in the countries to which they would be deported; however, Afghan law allows foreign victims of trafficking to remain legally in Afghanistan for at least six months. There was no information that the government forcibly deported any foreign victims of trafficking during the reporting period.
During the reporting period, the Government of Afghanistan made no discernible progress in preventing human trafficking, though it did adopt an anti-trafficking action plan. The High Commission for Combating Crimes of Abduction and Human Trafficking/Smuggling continued to meet on a quarterly basis, though it was ineffective due in part to its lack of a designated budget. While the terms of reference of the group require that ministries send deputy minister-level members to participate in meetings, many ministries sent lower-level officials or failed to attend meetings entirely. Nevertheless, in January 2013, the High Commission approved a national action plan which obligated specific anti-trafficking actions to its members. While the MOI increased the number of officers to staff the anti-trafficking/smuggling unit and designated two officers to work on trafficking issues in each of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, in practice, the majority of the personnel were temporarily reassigned to other duties. The government adopted the Abu Dhabi Dialogue Framework of Regional Collaboration, which includes provisions to familiarize workers with their rights and reduce recruitment fees. The government did not undertake initiatives to prevent trafficking, such as public awareness campaigns to warn at-risk populations of the danger of trafficking. There was no progress reported toward fulfilling the goals of the action plan signed in January 2011 to combat the practice of bacha baazi by the Afghan National Security Forces. The government did not take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Afghanistan is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.