London, 11 November, 2014 - The passing of legislation to criminalise underage recruitment in the Afghan National Security Forces constitutes a significant step in protecting the rights of Afghan children, Child Soldiers International said today. Last week, the Afghan Lower House of Parliament approved the draft law which criminalises the recruitment and use of children in state security forces.

The Draft Law prohibiting child recruitment into national security institutions was passed by the Wolesi Jirga, the Lower House of the Afghan Parliament, following an endorsement by the Afghanistan government earlier this year of a 15-point road map to implement an Action Plan signed with the UN in 2011.

The measures outlined in the road map include the criminalisation of the recruitment and use of children; the development of a policy to ensure that children arrested and detained on national security charges are treated in line with international juvenile justice standards; and improved age-verification mechanisms. The road map was supported by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and UNICEF in their roles as co-chairs of the UN-led Country Task Force on Children and Armed Conflict.

The responsibility of states to protect children from involvement in armed conflict does not end with its official armed forces or armed groups which are “associated” with or “allied” to states. Article 4.2 of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC) defines the responsibility of states to prevent recruitment by armed groups. Specifically, states are required to “take all feasible measures to prevent” the recruitment and use of children by such groups.

However, Article 3 of the current draft law prohibits the recruitment and use of children in “military installations” but it does not prohibit the recruitment and use of children in armed groups. The UN Secretary General’s 2014 annual report on children and armed conflict lists the Haqqani network, Hezb-e-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and the Taliban forces, including the Tora Bora Front, the Jamat Sunat al-Dawa Salafia and the Latif Mansur Network as parties that recruit and use children in hostilities. Despite the fact that incidents of recruitment and use of children remain underreported due to security constraints, the UN Secretary-General in his 2014 annual report on children and armed conflict documented the recruitment and use of 97 boys, some as young as eight years of age.

“We advocate ending all forms of military recruitment or the use in hostilities, in any capacity, of any person under the age of 18 by state armed forces and armed groups”, said Charu Lata Hogg, Asia Program Manager of Child Soldiers International. “By failing to include armed groups within the rubric of this important legislation, the government has blocked an opportunity to launch criminal prosecutions against leaders of armed groups responsible for underage recruitment in Afghanistan and failed its international obligations.”

Child Soldiers International is also concerned that the current law (Article 6) provides that children who are currently part of “military installations” must be dismissed within a month. However, the law does not specify any actions for the rehabilitation and reintegration of these children, nor does it stipulate measures to grant them full reparations to which they are entitled as victims of serious human rights violations.

“Children who have suffered the trauma of being involved in armed conflict require appropriate assistance including rehabilitation, education and vocational training,” said Hogg. “The bill, which aims to align Afghan Law with international legal protections for children in armed conflict, should outline procedures to rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society.”

Child Soldiers International urges the government of Afghanistan to:

  • Develop, adopt and implement age verification methods in line with best international practices; ensure that all military and civilian personnel involved in military recruitment have received child protection and age verification training;
  • Take measures to make birth registration free and accessible in law and in practice, in order to strive towards universal birth registration;
  • Establish permanent infrastructures for quality temporary care of children, assistance to their physical and psychosocial recovery, and support to family reunification and social reintegration;
  • Amend the draft law to prohibit the recruitment of children into armed groups and their use in hostilities;
  • Initiate a dialogue with the UN Country Task Force for Monitoring and Reporting to jointly develop a strategy to access armed groups listed in the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict through intermediaries, including independent humanitarian organisations, in order to advocate for and ensure the safe release and reintegration children associated with these groups;
  • Widely disseminate legislation criminalising child recruitment and use to all members of the armed and security forces, and systematically conduct effective investigations into all credible reports of child recruitment and use.

Notes for Editors

For more information and to arrange an interview with a spokesperson from Child Soldiers International, please contact Charu Lata Hogg, Tel: +44 (0) 2073674112, Mob: +44 (0) 7906261291

1. Child Soldiers International is an international human rights research and advocacy organisation seeking to end the military recruitment and the use in hostilities, in any capacity, of any person under the age of 18. www.child-soldiers.org
2. In its 2012 report, “Louder than Words – an agenda for action to end state use of child soldiers,” Child Soldiers International raised concerns at the use of children by the Afghanistan armed forces, including the Afghan National Police and the Afghan Local Police.
3. For additional information on UN reports on underage recruitment and use in Afghanistan, see the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, A/68/878–S/2014/339, 15 May 2014, paragraphs 23-32.