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© 2016 Yarek Waszul for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – The Afghan government should release children detained for alleged association with armed insurgent groups and work with the United Nations and donors to establish programs for their reintegration into society, Human Rights Watch said today. Hundreds of children are currently detained for alleged involvement with the Taliban, the extremist armed group Islamic State-Khorasan Province (also known as IS-KP), or other armed groups, and are often tortured in facilities run by government security forces.

In a report prepared in advance of the high-level United Nations Security Council session on Afghanistan on June 22, 2021, Human Rights Watch found that children are often held in military facilities in violation of Afghan law, and often sign documents involuntarily, including confessions, that they do not understand. They are charged with vaguely worded “terrorism offenses” and may be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Many children in custody are detained solely because of their parents’ alleged involvement with insurgent groups.

“Detaining and torturing children who have already been victimized by armed insurgent groups is inhumane and counterproductive,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Instead of letting these forgotten children languish in prison, the Afghan government, the UN, and donors should immediately establish programs to reintegrate these children into society.”

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has found that children detained in Afghanistan for conflict-related charges were more likely than adults to report torture. Nearly 44 percent of children interviewed in 2019-2020 provided credible accounts of torture or ill-treatment, compared with roughly 32 percent for all detainees. Random interviews by UNAMA during that period found children as young as 10 detained in military or security facilities.

During Afghanistan’s conflict, armed forces and groups have recruited thousands of children for both combat and support roles, in violation of international law. The Taliban, IS-KP, and other armed groups have used children to carry out suicide attacks, plant improvised explosive devices, and participate in hostilities. Afghan security forces have also recruited and used children.

Unlike other conflict-affected countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, or South Sudan, Afghanistan has no reintegration programs for children formerly associated with armed groups. In 2020, approximately 5,000 Taliban prisoners were released as a result of the Afghanistan peace talks, but none were children. Children detained for conflict-related reasons were also excluded from prisoner releases in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“These children are being forgotten, and their continued detention and abuse will not deter future violence,” Becker said. “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.”

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