With the takeover of Afghanistan, UN has warned the Taliban are already carrying out severe rights abuses in Afghanistan including ‘summary executions’ of civilians, the recruitment of child soldiers and restrictions on the rights of women and girls.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet urged the Human Rights Council to take bold actions after Taliban’s takeover raised fears over brutal rule previously enforced when they were in power. Bachelet cited reports of ‘summary executions’ of civilians, former security forces, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights abuses in Afghanistan.
Though the use of children as soldiers is illegal in Afghanistan, ratified by UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994, children have been recruited and used by both the sides in Afghanistan for years.
The recruitment and use of child soldiers raise several questions over its origin, extent and its adverse use. News18 takes an in-depth look at the practice in Afghanistan.
When Did it Start?
Taliban forces have added many children to their ranks since 2015 in violation of the international prohibition on the use of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said in a report. The report showed that the Taliban have been training and deploying children for various military operations including the production and planting of improvised explosive devices (IED). Other reports suggest that children were used in the war-torn country as early as 1990s.
In 2020, for the fifth year in a row, Afghanistan was listed as the deadliest conflict for children in the Report of the Secretary-General on Children in Armed Conflict.
Some as Young as 13 Employed
Taliban have used madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, to provide military training to children between the ages of 13 and 17, many of whom have been deployed in combat. It added that some of the recruited children from madrasas in Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces are as young 13 or even lower.
Reports say that boys as young as six years old are admitted in these madrasas where they continue to study religious subjects up to seven years. By the time these children turn 13, they learn military skills including use of firearms, and the production and deployment of IEDs.
Why are Child Soldiers Used?
When these children turn 13, Taliban teachers then introduce these trained child soldiers to specific Taliban groups in that district. Researches have shown that the children were employed when the Taliban began expanding its mission since the 2015. The Taliban needed more soldiers and hence these child soldiers were employed. Also, more children were targeted because it was easier to convince them of the righteousness of jihad.
Moreover, the children didn’t feel the responsibility of providing for a family and they are easily persuaded to take on dangerous tasks. Reports also said that Taliban madrasas attract poor families as the Taliban cover their expenses and provide food and clothing for the children. In some cases, they also offer cash to families for sending their boys to the madrasas.
Child Soldiers in Numbers?
Though there isn’t any study to point out the total number of children employed in Afghanistan in the past or the present, different reports gives us the extent of practice. A report from United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said that 155 children were recruited and used by armed groups between 1 January and 30 September 2020.
Another report adds that Taliban had recruited and deployed more than 100 children from Chahardara district alone in 2015.
In 2017, Child Soldiers International estimated that more than 100,000 children were forced to become soldiers in state and non-state military organizations in at least 18 armed conflicts across the world.
Only in Afghanistan?
No, child soldiers is not restrained to the Afghan territories.
Apart from Afghanistan, child soldiers have been used in Colombia, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
The US recently added 15 countries including Pakistan to a Child Soldier Recruiter List that identifies foreign governments having government-supported armed groups that recruit or use child soldiers, a report in The Indian Express said.
It added that UN verified that over 7,000 children had been recruited and used as soldiers in 2019 alone.