A new agreement between Afghanistan and the United Nations holds out the hope of ending the recruitment of children by armed forces and curbing the sexual abuse of young boys by powerful commanders, particularly in the national police, a top UN official said today.
“We look forward to try to play an important role in it, both in verification and monitoring and assisting the government in its reintegration process,” the UN Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, told a news conference at UN Headquarters in New York. “I think we can do a pretty good job of monitoring the situation.”
Under an action plan which Ms. Coomaraswamy signed with Afghan officials in Kabul, the capital, on Sunday, the government committed to protect children affected by armed conflict, prevent the recruitment of minors into the national armed forces, reintegrate them into civil society, and end the practice of Bacha-bazi, or so-called dancing boys.
“Very powerful warlords and regional commanders from all the security forces as well as anti-government forces have young boys who are taught to dance,” she explained. “They dance in front of them – in some kind of party situation – and then they are sexually exploited, sexual abuse of boys. We’re concerned because it’s sort of considered a sense of power and strength how many you have and parade.”
The Afghan government, the Ulema (Moslem scholars) and the fundamentalist Taliban now fighting the government are all officially against the practice, as is civil society. “So everybody’s against this practice but it continues with impunity,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said. “It seems to be widespread and it has to be fought and we need some prosecutions if we’re going to turn things around.”
She cited photographic and other evidence that the Afghan police in particular were recruiting minors and using boys as Bacha-bazi, noting that boys aged from 12 to 16 were being used to search vehicles or man checkpoints.
She said the UN country team will monitor the situation, adding that she did not have numbers for those recruited by the government or anti-government forces.
Last April, the Afghan National Police was cited in Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's report on Children and Armed Conflict for its recruitment of children. The government responded by establishing an inter-ministerial steering committee which developed the action plan with the UN-led country task force on children and armed conflict.
The plan sets out various issues that the government will address, such as the strengthening of birth registration and age-verification mechanisms, investigation and prosecution of perpetrators of under-age recruitment and sexual violence.