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Wednesday, August 25, 2021
Op-Ed: America’s Withdrawal From Afghanistan Will Open The Door For Sex Traffickers
Funds donated will go towards our efforts to end human trafficking and exploitation around the world.
By Tim Ballard
People are free to debate if it was right for the United States to invade Afghanistan in 2001, or if we should have maintained a presence in the country for over two decades, or even if the timing of our recent and hasty withdrawal was appropriate. However, one indisputable fact that is not open for debate is that the moment the United States entered Afghanistan, we accepted a moral, social, and arguably, legal obligation to care for and protect the country’s most vulnerable people, that being women and children.
The United States’ rapid and slapdash departure from Afghanistan represents a complete abdication of that responsibility and obligation. We are failing the very people we are supposed to protect and, worse, we are doing so despite our own government’s admission that there was still so much work left undone. The U.S. Department of State reported just this year that Afghanistan “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so…”
Afghanistan was also included on a list of state-sponsored governments that had a “documented ‘policy or pattern’ of human trafficking in government-funded programs, forced labor in government-affiliated medical services or other sectors, sexual slavery in government camps, or the employment or recruitment of child soldiers.” This list, in addition to Afghanistan, includes governments from Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia to name a few.
According to the U.S. Department of State in 2001, Afghanistan under Taliban rule had one of the worst human rights records in the world. The regime systematically repressed all sectors of the population and denied even the most basic individual rights.
The 2002 Trafficking in Persons report noted that “the Taliban, a Pashtun-dominated fundamentalist Islamic movement, controlled approximately 90 percent of the country. Taliban forces were responsible for disappearances of women and children, many of whom were trafficked to Pakistan and the Gulf States.”
Under Taliban control, women were forced into sex slavery, largely prevented from obtaining real employment, forbidden to walk outside alone, denied access to education, and prevented from receiving appropriate health and medical care.
Children were also subjected to unspeakable atrocities, including the practice of bacha bazi, where male children are sexually abused by older men and forced into combat as child soldiers, as well as into marriage and as laborers, domestic workers and in the sex trade.
In an interview with The Atlantic, Manizha Naderi, a co-founder of Women for Afghan Women, said, “Before the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, there was nothing, no infrastructure, no legal system, no educational system, nothing there. And in the last 20 years, everything was re-created in the country, from education, to the legal system, to social, to economics … Women have gained everything. Not just women, but the Afghans in general have gained a lot.”
The fact is today’s resurgence of the Taliban, and the ensuing fall of the Afghan government, threatens to almost instantaneously erase the strides meant to aid women and children over the past 20 years and bring the issue to light. And for this, the international community should be disgusted and embarrassed.
According to recent report from UNICEF, over the previous decade, 2.7 million Afghans left the country in the hopes of finding a better life. We know that from our experience, many individuals, especially children, who flee their homes, communities, and counties are extremely vulnerable and become targets for those who wish to force them into being trafficked for sex or forced labor.
These numbers are staggering, but they are reflective of a time when the Taliban was not in control of Afghanistan. Imagine how much those numbers will increase under the oppressive rule of the new Taliban regime. And the world will never know it, as the Taliban will keep the problem in the dark, or worse, sponsor and condone these abuses.
Already, reports of fear and uncertainty are streaming out of Afghanistan now that the Taliban are on the verge of complete control. Despite the Taliban’s shallow promises that women’s rights will be honored, women are already being forced from their jobs, girls removed from schools. Some women are even going so far as to hide or destroy any evidence of their personal or professional accomplishments such as diplomas, certificates, and other documents.
One Kabul resident wrote that men are already making fun of women and girls, seemingly delighting in their terror. “It is your last days of being out on the streets,” said one man. “I will marry four of you in one day,” said another.
Sadly, it was almost a forgone conclusion that this is how things would play out if the Taliban were allowed to regain unfettered power. For example, the United Nations reported that as U.S. and other military groups began their withdrawal from Afghanistan in the first six months of 2021, more women and children were killed or wounded than during any other year since 2009.
Imagine being a woman or a child in Afghanistan now faced with one of two options, both with potentially tragic outcomes. The first, stay in a country that is ruled by a regime that was known to have one of the worst human rights records in the world. The second, attempt to flee the country and risk falling prey to those who seek to victimize the vulnerable, and force them into being trafficked for sex for forced labor.
We call on the United States and other governments, non-profits, and NGOs to act immediately. At the Nazarene Fund, and at its sister organization, Operation Underground Railroad, we are prepared to do our part, but we can’t do it alone. If the international community fails to step up and respond to this situation, we will see a huge influx in the number of women and children being trafficked.
The international community should not do what it has done far too often in the past — turn a blind eye to the problem and make an already-tragic situation even worse. We must address this issue head on for the sake of saving the lives of so many women and children who might otherwise be lost.
Tim Ballard is the Founder of Operation Underground Railroad and the CEO of The Nazarene Fund.