How to Address Child Exploitation?

by Joshua Foust on 9/29/2009 · 5 comments

The horrifying scourge of child exploitation, both male and female, is a gut-wrenching refrain on this blog (see here, for example, or here, or here, or here).

Several months ago, reports surfaced in Kandahar that Canadian troops were so disturbed by seeing rampant child abuse they had to enter counseling. Now directives have been issued, ordering Canadian troops to “stop or report” instances of child-rape (the story limited the discussion to boys, but I think reporting the rape of little girls is implicit). While it would be one thing to witness this kind of thing out in the boonies, the incidents that inspired this new directive apparently took place on Kandahar Air Field itself. On at least two separate occasions, people witnessed little boys, sometimes dressed up in wigs and makeup, being escorted into the tents of Afghan interpreters and soldiers.

“Man-love Thursdays” is a running American joke across the whole country. Friday is the day of atonement for Muslims, so the joke goes, so they act extra depraved the day before. Sometimes you’d see this very explicitly: a young Tajik man winking at you as he handed you a flower, or my friend Henry becoming the most popular guy on base by playing soccer shirtless. But even in America, large numbers of people have a difficult time coming to groups with distinguishing homosexuality, which is surprisingly widespread in Afghanistan, and raping children… which is also depressingly widespread. The distinction matters tremendously.

What’s interesting—and especially distressing—about Afghanistan is the prevalence of child rape among the U.S.-funded Afghan National Security Forces. Worse still is new information indicating that the Canadian military knew of these reports and buried them for fear of a media feeding frenzy.

So we’re left with reporting it now, at least among the Canadians, in the South. I’m unaware of the U.S. having any explicit policy regarding child abuse, beyond a general opposition to it (natch). So what do you do? Our new Big Idea is to dramatically and rapidly expand the numbers of ANSF in the country… yet they are also the biggest culprits when it comes to sexually abusing children.

It’s no small matter. In the hagiography of Mullah Omar, he swept through Kandahar, and established the Taliban as a legitimate force in Afghanistan, by attacking the leftover mujahidin commanders raping and pillaging the city. He lynched one commander who had raped a 16-year old girl, so the story goes, hanging by the neck from his own tank. Then, when he hear of little boys being snatched off the streets for the powerful men to have some bacha bazi, he gathered a small coterie and chased the mujahidin out of town, to cheers.

The stakes for addressing our own complicity in child sexual exploitation could not be higher.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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Steve C September 29, 2009 at 7:41 pm

The story most repeated throughout Afghanistan is that the first move of the Talibs was the settling (by violence) of a dispute between two Kandahar commanders about who “owned” a 10 year old boy.

The penalties for rape (whether of a male or female of any age) under the Taliban regime were very severe and put a stop to some pretty awful practices.

But now they have democracy. Hurrah

BruceR September 29, 2009 at 7:46 pm

It wasn’t KAF. The prime reason being Afghans aren’t allowed on KAF.

There is no evidence that I have seen that the Canadian military have “buried” anything. The allegation that they were overly worried about the media rests solely on one reporter’s headline-seeking spin on the fact that a public affairs office took the time to do up some talking points on the issue. Um, that’s their job: by itself it doesn’t indicate a coverup ,surely. (Note the article does not quote any Canadian officer saying they are concerned about the media.)

As the links clearly indicate, the initial allegation related to a reported incident at PB Wilson in 2006. It was investigated and the one witness, who had left his tour early due to operational stress, was judged to be wholly unreliable in his testimony. Supporting contemporaneous allegations were from a couple chaplains who said unnamed soldiers had told them stuff, also wholly unconfirmable hearsay in whole or in part. That case was thrown out for a complete lack of evidence, whatever the lead witness is saying to any media who will listen to him now.

In my experience as an ANA mentor 2008-09, all possible reports of sexual abuse were reported to the chain of command. No Afghans were ever caught in the act that I am aware of, so these largely consisted of concerns that young teens were being allowed/encouraged to hang around ANSF facilities. This behaviour was discouraged through the ANSF chain.

Bruno September 29, 2009 at 9:29 pm

Canada… yet another country Roman Polanski can’t set foot on…

B September 29, 2009 at 9:30 pm

>What’s interesting—and especially distressing—about Afghanistan is the prevalence of child rape among the U.S.-funded Afghan National Security Forces.

You sound surprised by the fact that when a bunch of Afghans got BDUs and some rudimentary training, they did not immediately turn into the Iron Chefs of pounding vaj. Besides Mr. Mackey-like Powerpoint presentations on the evils of pederasty, what solutions are there to this problem? September 30, 2009 at 6:29 am

Curious about your experience on this: someone with WAY more experience than myself pointed this out when it comes to how sensitive it is to deal with this culturally-ingrained issue:
“Try pressuring one of your friends to stop doing something they hide but you know they do; then try to get a Police Officer to accost them about it…”
I agree 100% that you can’t build public trust in a security force that does this sort of thing, but I can also understand the potential for ugly situations from soldiers attempting to, in the words of Canada’s Defence Minister, “prevent”, “pre-empt” or “intervene” in such situations.

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