The government decreased law enforcement efforts against civilian and official perpetrators of trafficking, and officials complicit in recruitment and use of child soldiers and bacha bazı continued to operate with impunity. The 2017 Law to Combat Crimes of Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, including bacha bazı. The law prescribed penalties between five and eight years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes. Aggravating factors increased the maximum sentence to between 10 and 15 years’ imprisonment and the imposition of the death penalty if exploitation for armed fighting resulted in the victim’s death. Article 510 of the 2018 criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, including bacha bazı. Article 511 prescribed penalties of five to 10 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving adult male victims and 10 to 16 years’ imprisonment if the victim was a woman or child, or exploited in bacha bazı. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 512 outlined aggravating factors and increased penalties to 16 to 20 years’ imprisonment for sex trafficking or forced armed fighting and between 20 to 30 years’ if the victim forced to fight died while subjected to trafficking. While the 2018 penal code also specifically criminalized more crimes related to bacha bazı, some of which would constitute trafficking offenses, it also prescribed lower penalties for certain acts constituting bacha bazı than those prescribed under Article 510. Most of these penalties were not sufficiently stringent, nor commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government also used the 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) to prosecute and convict sex traffickers.
The government’s lack of resources and lack of political will to hold perpetrators accountable diminished enforcement of anti-trafficking laws. The judiciary remained underfunded, understaffed, undertrained, and in some cases ineffective, and judicial officials were often intimidated by perpetrators or corrupt. In urban areas, if judges or prosecutors did not assess that a clearly defined legal statute applied, or they were unaware of the statutory law, then they enforced customary law, which often resulted in outcomes that discriminated against women. While the EVAW law expressly prohibits mediation, and other Afghan laws neither permit nor prescribe mediation in criminal cases, police and judges often referred trafficking victims to mediation. In some areas, anti-government forces, such as the Taliban, instituted their own justice systems, including for trafficking victims.
As in the previous year, ministries provided conflicting data, which called into question its validity and made it difficult to compare to previous years. Under the 2017 anti-trafficking law, MOI reported investigation and prosecution of 16 suspects in 14 trafficking-related cases. The judiciary convicted seven traffickers. Judges acquitted four suspects and continued prosecution in five cases, although it was unclear if the cases were human trafficking, kidnapping, or migrant smuggling. This was a significant decrease from the investigation of 138 alleged traffickers, prosecution of 64 suspects, and conviction of 34 traffickers under the anti-trafficking and EVAW laws in the previous reporting period. Despite laws explicitly criminalizing bacha bazı, the government demonstrated little political will to combat it. Most often, MOI either refused to investigate bacha bazı cases or investigated them as other crimes such as kidnapping. In addition to the trafficking cases filed under the 2017 anti-trafficking law, during the reporting period, the judiciary notably convicted five civilian perpetrators of bacha bazı in three cases and indicted four others in one ongoing case. However, the government did not use the anti-trafficking law or the bacha bazı law in any of the cases.
The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of any allegedly complicit officials for trafficking offenses. Disregard for the rule of law and widespread official complicity in trafficking, especially bacha bazı, overwhelmingly impeded efforts to address these crimes. Afghan security forces, in particular the ANP and ALP, recruited boys for bacha bazı in every province of the country. While some high-level officials and provincial authorities continued to deny the existence of bacha bazı, and MOI denied any police perpetrated bacha bazı, local authorities overwhelmingly acknowledged that many police, especially checkpoint commanders, recruited boys for sex trafficking in bacha bazı. Particularly in Kandahar province, local police and elder community members openly exploited boys in bacha bazı on a large scale without fear of reprisal. The government has never prosecuted a police officer for bacha bazı. In rare cases, officials sometimes issued arrest warrants for government perpetrators of bacha bazı but did not enforce the warrants. Some Afghan security forces and pro-government militias—some of whom may have received direct financial support from the government—recruited boys specifically for use in bacha bazı. In some instances, ANA officials reportedly used promises of food and money to entice boys into bacha bazı. International organizations verified three cases of bacha bazı perpetrated by the ANP and ALP during the reporting period but cautioned such figures remained an extreme underrepresentation of the problem. Police did not arrest any perpetrators reported during the reporting period, nor did it arrest any of the 10 ANP or ALP officials whom an international organization had referred to police in 2018 for bacha bazı. The government did not report updates on its investigations into 13 ANA officers for crimes related to bacha bazı, including witnessing and failure to report bacha bazı.
Afghan security forces, including the ANA, ANP, ALP, and NDS, continued to recruit and use children in combat and non-combat roles with impunity. An international organization verified at least three cases of recruitment by the ANP, one by the ALP, and one case by both the ALP and a pro-government militia. This is similar to previous years; however, experts stressed recruitment and use of child soldiers remained underreported, often due to safety concerns. Despite consistent identification of child soldiers among Afghan security forces for several years, MOI, MOD, and NDS denied all allegations. The government has never prosecuted any military or police official for recruitment or use of child soldiers. Pro-government militias that may have received direct financial support from the Afghan government reportedly recruited and used child soldiers, primarily in non-combat roles. The government denied and did not investigate such claims. Some officials accepted bribes to produce identity documents for boys stating they were at least 18 years old.
Widespread official complicity in human trafficking continued outside of the Afghan security forces, also with impunity. Observers noted perpetrators of bacha bazı often paid bribes to, or had relationships with, law enforcement, prosecutors, or judges that protected them from prosecution. A public health official who conducted forensic exams for criminal cases reported state prosecutors pressured him not to report confirmed evidence of abuse, including in cases of bacha bazı. In 2019, activists spent six months investigating and interviewing hundreds of boys aged 14 to 20 in Logar province across three high schools, and found evidence that at least 165 were sexually abused by teachers, principals, vice-principals, fellow students, and at least one local law enforcement official. Some youth were required to have sex in exchange for passing grades. Officials removed from his job one school manager accused of bacha bazı but later gave him a job at Logar’s provincial Education Department. After local authorities refused to take action on the allegations of abuse, activists reported the allegations to international media in November 2019. After an international outcry, several government bodies, including the AGO, Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), Ministry of Education, Parliament, and the Logar provincial government, investigated the allegations, but the quality and thoroughness of the investigations varied, and the results were inconsistent with victim reports. The AGO investigation identified 20 perpetrators, nine of whom authorities had arrested as of March 2020. In contradiction with victims’ reports, the government did not identify a single government educator or law enforcement officer as a suspect. Although activists said victims had identified many public high school teachers and other educators as perpetrators, the AGO failed to find any link between the Logar child sexual abuse and the Logar public school system. Separately, many female sex trafficking victims alleged prosecutors and judicial officials sought sexual favors in exchange for continuing investigations and prosecutions of their cases. The government did not report an update on its investigation into two police officers accused of facilitating the sex trafficking of an adult woman. Indian authorities arrested an Afghan official for purchasing sex from two potential sex trafficking victims.
Law enforcement and judicial officials continued to have a limited understanding of trafficking. While the 2017 law used separate terms and definitions for trafficking and smuggling, Dari, the most widely spoken language in Afghanistan, historically used the same word for human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and officials conflated the two crimes. MOI organized and conducted four regional training sessions for approximately 590 provincial anti-trafficking unit officers, Afghan Border Police, and police Criminal Investigation Department officers in four provinces. MOI continued to operate dedicated trafficking/smuggling units in each of the 34 provinces and in Kabul, with two officers in each province. NDS, the ABP, and a Kabul-based INTERPOL unit also had mandates to address human trafficking. The agencies did not have a clear delineation of responsibilities, so NDS investigated most human trafficking cases. While ABP was best-positioned to identify and investigate trafficking at the borders, and some of its officers received anti-trafficking training during the reporting period, many officials still lacked anti-trafficking training. In addition, the force as a whole lacked the resources to identify and investigate trafficking. Officials acknowledged personnel, resources, and knowledge of trafficking remained inadequate across all units. Law enforcement lacked cooperation with neighboring countries, which impeded investigation of transnational trafficking cases.