Taleban continues to recruit child soldiers for combat

Taleban militants arrested by the Afghan border police standing during a presentation of seized weapons and equipment in Jalalabad on Dec 29, 2015.
Taleban militants arrested by the Afghan border police standing during a presentation of seized weapons and equipment in Jalalabad on Dec 29, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK - Taleban forces in Afghanistan have added scores of children to their ranks since mid-2015, in violation of the international prohibition on the use of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday (Feb 17).

New research by the Human Rights Watch have revealed that the Taleban have been training and deploying children for various military operations, including the production and planting of improvised explosive devices (IED).

In Kunduz province, the Taleban have increasingly used madrasas, or Islamic religious schools, to provide military training to children between the ages of 13 and 17, many of whom have been deployed in combat.

"The Taleban's apparent strategy to throw increasing numbers of children into battle is as cynical and cruel as it is unlawful," said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"Afghan children should be at school and at home with their parents, not exploited as cannon fodder for the Taleban insurgency."

Human Rights Watch had interviewed relatives of 13 children recruited as Taleban soldiers over the past year, and verified these claims through interviews with civil society activists, political analysts, and the United Nations. Despite Taleban claims that they only enlist fighters who have achieved "mental and physical maturity," and do not use "boys with no beards" in military operations, some of the children recruited from madrasas in Kunduz, Takhar, and Badakhshan provinces are 13 or younger.

The Taleban have previously denied "the use of children and adolescents in Jihadic Operations," but its deployment of individuals under the age of 18 violates international law applicable in Afghanistan, and in cases involving children under 15 is a war crime.

Kunduz residents and analysts say the increase in recruitment and deployment of child fighters coincided with the Taleban's major offensive in northern Afghanistan which began in April 2015. Human Rights Watch interviews with activists and analysts indicate that the Taleban-run madrasas have been functioning in Kunduz, as well as other northern provinces, since at least 2012.

As the Taleban made substantial inroads in 2013-2014, gaining ground in Kunduz's Chahardara and Dasht-e Archi districts, they gained more influence over education in the province, according to the Human Rights Watch.

It said Taleban commanders have increasingly used madrasas not only for indoctrination, but also for military training of children. Previously, Taleban commanders sent boys selected for military training to North Waziristan in Pakistan, where despite Pakistan's military operations, the Taleban operates freely in large swathes of territory. While such training still occurs, the Taleban has solidified its control over at least three districts in Kunduz, and residents and analysts told Human Rights Watch that the group is carrying out more of the military training locally.

The Taleban recruit and train children in age-specific stages. Boys begin indoctrination as young as six years old, and continue to study religious subjects under Taleban teachers for up to seven years.

According to relatives of boys recruited by the Taleban, by the time they are 13, Taleban-educated children have learned military skills including the use of firearms, and the production and deployment of IEDs. Taleban teachers then introduce those trained child soldiers to specific Taleban groups in that district.

"The Taleban's increasing use of children as soldiers only adds to the horrors of Afghanistan's long conflict both for the children and their families," said Gossman. "The Taleban should immediately stop recruiting children and release all children in their ranks, even those who claim to have joined willingly."