As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Afghanistan, and traffickers exploit victims from Afghanistan abroad. Internal trafficking is more prevalent than transnational trafficking. Traffickers exploit men, women, and children in bonded labor, a form of forced labor by which traffickers offer loans and manipulate the debts to coerce workers into continued employment. The pandemic, economic crisis, drought, and food insecurity increased the risk of exploitation by traffickers, particularly in bonded labor, as individuals took out loans to cover expenses and paid increasing prices to migrant smugglers. Since the Taliban takeover on August 15, vulnerabilities to exploitation have intensified, damaging victim support networks, limiting the freedom of movement and rights of women and girls, displacing minorities, intensifying the refugee crisis, instilling fear within the population, and increasing internal displacement, including forced displacements. Traffickers compel entire families to work in bonded labor in the brickmaking industry, predominately in eastern Afghanistan, and in carpet weaving countrywide. Former members of the Afghan National Security Forces and others associated with the Ghani government, internally displaced persons, forced deportees, voluntary refugee returnees, irregular migrants, and refugees were at a high risk of exploitation. Due to the current economic crisis, many may become dependent on the opium trade for survival, particularly as the prices have increased due to continued uncertainty in the country. Experts have noted that the opium trade has been one of the main sources of income for non-state actors in Afghanistan and the Taliban and other groups have collected taxes from farmers growing the crop in the past—many Afghans may be at risk of exploitation in the opium trade, in forced labor in the fields or as mules to transport the drugs. In previous years, NGOs confirmed reports of children used to support opium poppy cultivation and harvesting, as well as drug production and smuggling.
Most Afghan trafficking victims are children forced to work in carpet making, brick kilns, domestic servitude, sex trafficking (including Bacha bazi), domestic work, herding livestock, begging, poppy cultivation and harvesting, salt mining, drug smuggling, weapons trafficking, and truck driving. IO experts have indicated that child labor increased after the Taliban takeover, noting that 9 percent of children ages 5 to 17 (1.06 million) are involved in child labor and boys are more vulnerable than girls to be victims of trafficking, especially in Bacha bazi. High levels of debt have also driven some families to sell their children to work as indentured servants or marry off underaged daughters in exchange for a dowry payment; some families force their children into labor with physical violence or knowingly sell their children into sex trafficking, including Bacha bazi. Some parents with substance use issues reportedly force their children into labor, street begging, and sex trafficking. Victims alleged some law enforcement and judiciary officials requested sexual favors in exchange for pursuing cases. In 2019, 165 boys in Logar province reported widespread sexual abuse by government teachers, principals, and local law enforcement, including requiring children to have sex in exchange for passing grades and subjecting boys to sex trafficking in Bacha bazi. Some boys who reported sexual abuse and sex trafficking to police reported police officers then raped them.
Prior to August 15, 2021, Afghan security forces and non-state armed groups continued to unlawfully recruit or use children in combat and support roles, as in previous reporting periods. Before and after August 15, the Taliban and other non-state armed groups continued to unlawfully recruit or use children in combat and support roles. The Taliban recruit— at times through coercion, fraud, and false promises—and use children in combat roles, including to plant and detonate IEDs and to carry out suicide and other dangerous attacks. Groups such as the Taliban and the Islamic State in Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) used children in direct hostilities, to plant and detonate IEDs, to carry weapons, to spy, and to guard bases. Child soldiers were pressed into service with the Taliban, ISIS-K, and other groups and were imprisoned without regard to their age. The Taliban recruits child soldiers from its madrassas in Afghanistan and Pakistan that provide military training and religious indoctrination, and it sometimes provides families cash payments or protection in exchange for sending their children to these schools. Armed groups target children from impoverished and rural areas—displaced children are at a higher risk for recruitment by armed groups. The Taliban abducts and coerces adult women into forced labor. The Taliban maintains detention facilities in which it compels detainees, including child and adult sex trafficking victims charged with “moral crimes,” into forced labor.
Traffickers exploit children as young as 9 years old in Bacha bazi. In northern provinces, many Bacha bazi traffickers were community elders or private citizens. In southern provinces, Bacha bazi perpetrators were more commonly police, military, and local government officials under the pre-August 15 government. Bacha bazi survivors reported to NGOs an “overwhelming understanding that Bacha bazi is committed by the powerful,” including military commanders (under the pre-August 15 government) and community leaders. International organizations reported cases of Bacha bazi by nearly all armed groups. Under the pre-August 15 government, perpetrators of Bacha bazi sometimes offered bribes or used relationships with law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to evade punishment.
After August 15, restrictions on the movement of women and girls, and severely diminished access to employment and education, increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Women-headed households are at an increased risk of poverty and vulnerability to trafficking. Freedom of movement for women, including LGBTQI+ women, has been largely restricted unless accompanied by a mahram (close male relative)—the Taliban have detained women who were found without a mahram in some provinces and denied some women medical treatment because they were not accompanied by a mahram. Prior to August 15, nine out of 10 women experienced at least one form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime—many of these women have been forced to return to their families after the Taliban closed women’s shelters throughout the country. Women in Afghanistan may be reluctant to seek help or escape from an abusive situation, including trafficking, due to “honor killings,” which are sometimes carried out by family members. It was previously reported that women and girls have been charged for Zina (sex outside of marriage)—some women and girls have been convicted of Zina after being raped or forced into sex trafficking. International organizations reported there is an institutionalization of largescale and systemic gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.
According to experts, LGBTQI+ individuals are among the groups in Afghanistan most vulnerable to exploitation, particularly under the Taliban. LGBTQI+ individuals have been attacked, sexually assaulted, and directly threatened by the Taliban—many have been abused by family members and neighbors who support the Taliban or believe in the need to act against the LGBTQI+ community for their own safety. The LGBTQI+ community faced discrimination, violence, and danger during the pre-August 15 government; according to experts, this has worsened since the Taliban took power. The Taliban reported human rights would be respected within the framework of Islamic law, which would not include LGBTQI+ rights, and that LGBTQI+ individuals are against Sharia law. This leaves LGBTQI+ individuals at a high risk of trafficking as they are left out of social services, are coerced due to their sexual orientation, or seek informal methods to escape Afghanistan—as they fear passing through checkpoints or going into a passport office. The Taliban prohibits women from traveling without a mahram, leaving lesbians and bisexual women not able to escape exploitative situations on their own.
Ethnic and religious minorities, such as Hazara Shiites, Ahmadi Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Baha’is, and Christians, are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation due to the threats and danger they face from the Taliban and ISIS-K. Ethnic and religious minorities are forced to hide in fear or to seek ways to leave the country, putting them at increased risk of exploitation. Muslim Shiite populations have been historically targeted by the Taliban and ISIS-K—they are at increased risk due to displacement by the Taliban and attacks by the Taliban and non-state actors, such as ISIS-K.
Afghan men, women, and children pay intermediaries to assist them in finding employment abroad, primarily in Iran, Pakistan, and Europe; some intermediaries and employers force Afghans into labor or sex trafficking. The substantial increase in the number of individuals seeking to flee Afghanistan, combined with the closure of borders and diplomatic missions and passport offices in Afghanistan, has increased the vulnerability of Afghans, as many migrate through irregular means. Many Afghans have sought refuge in neighboring countries, particularly Pakistan and Iran. Some Afghan women and girls who are sold to husbands in Afghanistan, India, Iran, and Pakistan are exploited in sex trafficking and domestic servitude by their new husbands. According to an international organization, the economic effects of the pandemic, the security situation, and political instability, as well as other factors such as drought in several provinces, exacerbated the problem of families selling girls into marriages. Some women and girls were forced into marriage to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover. Some Afghan parents forcibly send boys to Iran to work to pay for their dowry in an arranged marriage. Afghan boys and men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in agriculture and construction, primarily in Iran, Pakistan, Greece, Turkey, and the Gulf states. Since August 15, many Afghan refugees fear being deported back to Afghanistan, which makes them less likely to report exploitation to foreign authorities—particularly in Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Europe, and Central Asia. Traffickers in Iran, including Iranian criminal groups, exploit Afghan children in forced labor as beggars and street vendors and in forced criminality, including drug trafficking and the smuggling of fuel and tobacco. Iranian police sometimes detain, torture, and extort Afghan child trafficking victims before deportation. Turkish authorities sometimes beat Afghan asylum- seekers and push them back into Iran, where they may face deportation back to Afghanistan, and some families are separated in the process. The Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps continue to force and coerce Afghan migrants, including children as young as 12 years old, to fight in Iranian-led and -funded Shia militias deployed to Syria by threatening them with arrest and deportation to Afghanistan. Smuggling networks transport Afghan nationals living in Iran to Europe and subject them to sex trafficking and force them to work in restaurants to pay off debts incurred by smuggling fees. Some Afghan traffickers have subjected Afghan boys to Bacha bazi in Germany, Hungary, North Macedonia, and Serbia. Traffickers have subjected women and girls from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Iran, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Tajikistan to sex trafficking in Afghanistan. Under the pretense of high-paying employment opportunities, some labor recruiting agencies lure foreign workers to Afghanistan from South and Central Asia and subject them to forced labor after arrival. Afghans who resettled in Ukraine after the Taliban takeover face increased vulnerabilities as they flee the conflict caused by the Russian invasion.