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Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Afghanistan

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2004
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2004 - Afghanistan, 2004, available at: [accessed 2 December 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Covers the period from April 2001 to March 2004.

Population: 22.9 million (11.4 million under 18)
Government armed forces: 6,000
Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
Voluntary recruitment age: 22
Voting age: 18
Optional Protocol: acceded 24 September 2003
Other treaties ratified (see glossary): CRC, ICC

There were no reports of under-18s serving in the armed forces. Boys reportedly joined or were forcibly recruited into factional armed groups and militias. There were reports that girls were forced into early marriages with armed group commanders. The number of actual and former child soldiers was estimated at around 8,000. Under-18s arrested in Afghanistan were held at the US military detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


For most of 2001 fighting continued between the Taliban, then controlling over 90 per cent of the country, and the United Front, also known as the Northern Alliance, an armed alliance supported by the UN-recognized government. In November 2001 the Taliban fell after a US-led military intervention, and in December UN-brokered talks culminated in the Bonn Agreement and the establishment of a six-month interim authority. In June 2002 an Emergency Loya Jirga (General Assembly) established the Afghan Transitional Authority, which had virtually no control outside the capital, Kabul. Local armed groups and regional commanders continued to act with impunity and to consolidate regional power bases through the use of private armies. The security situation deteriorated, with increased lawlessness, factional fighting and human rights abuses by armed groups. In October 2003, after repeated calls by the transitional government, the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) beyond Kabul.1


National recruitment legislation and practice

A Presidential Decree passed in December 2002 established the transitional government's armed forces. Under the decree, "recruitment ... will be voluntary and inclusive of all social and ethnic groups" and all recruits are required to complete a training program.2 A further decree issued in May 2003 states that "the minimum age for recruitment of Afghan citizens to an active military service is limited by the age of 22 to 28". The decree says that forced or coerced recruitment is prohibited.3 There were no reports of under-18s serving in the armed forces.

US occupying forces

Following US ratification of the Optional Protocol in December 2002, a new policy banned deployment of under-18s overseas. However, 62 US soldiers aged 17 served "in all capacities" in the army in Afghanistan and Iraq in 2003 and 2004.4 Of these, five had been deployed to Afghanistan.5 By the end of March 2004, there were no US soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq under the age of 18.6

Armed political groups

Although accurate documentation on the numbers of children actively associated with armed groups was not available, UNICEF reported in mid-2003 that boys aged between 14 and 18 continued to be involved in such groups. They were attracted by promises of payment or education, by a desire to protect their own communities, or by the status and power of carrying weapons. Some joined voluntarily, but others were coerced under threat of death or injury. In some cases local commanders demanded that families provide a son to fill quotas imposed by regional commanders. Parents also sent their children to join armed groups for ideological reasons, and under-18s joined up alongside their brothers or other family members.7

Before the US-led intervention, there were some reports of the use of children by the Taliban. In September 2001 the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission in Pakistan warned of possible increased recruitment of young men and boys from Islamic schools (madrasas) in Pakistan to join the Taliban in the event of a US-led attack on Afghanistan.8 One teacher at an Islamic school in Pakistan said that students were aged 20 or above before they were sent to fight in Afghanistan.9 Little information was available on the use of child soldiers by the Northern Alliance from early 2001, although, as fighting against the Taliban intensified towards the end of the year, children were reportedly on the front lines.10

According to UNICEF, all fighting forces used children throughout the war, including the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, Afghan military forces and other armed groups. Boys between the ages of 14 and 18 were used as spies, messengers, porters, security guards and cooks. They were also used to carry weapons and ammunition, dig trenches, search for the wounded and bury the dead. Only older boys who were "close to the high command" received basic weapons training.11

There were some reports of girls performing domestic work under the command structure of armed groups and being forced into early marriages with commanders.12

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR)

In July 2003 UNICEF estimated there were approximately 8,000 former and actual child soldiers associated with armed groups. Although a considerable number had been disarmed and returned home, they remained under a military command structure. Local commanders had registers of former combatants, including children, who could be ordered to return to the groups in the event of an upsurge in fighting.13

A community-based demobilization and reintegration program, established by UNICEF in collaboration with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), governments and NGOs, began operations in February 2004.14 By March UNICEF had facilitated and supported the demobilization of 1,075 children in the northeastern regions. The program aimed to demobilize 5,000 child soldiers, and provide reintegration support to a further 10,000 children associated with armed groups in 2004.15 Projects included assisting former child soldiers to gain access to education, vocational and life skills training, work opportunities, psychosocial support and material assistance.16 Locally-elected verification committees, who included representatives of local government (shuras), identified underage children associated with armed groups. Once demobilized, the children had a medical and psychosocial assessment.17

NGOs emphasized the need for systematic community-based efforts to ensure that reintegration programs were effective and included mechanisms to protect children from recruitment into armed groups, and to address sensitive issues such as the sexual abuse of boys as well as girls involved with armed groups.18 In February 2003 the NGO Consortium for the Psychosocial Care and Protection of Children, comprising the Christian Children's Fund, International Rescue Committee and Save the Children Federation, received funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to assist particularly vulnerable children, including former child soldiers.19 The program includes emotional support for children affected by war, provided through children's group psychosocial initiatives, non-formal education and skills training.20

* see glossary for information about internet sources

1 Amnesty International Reports 2002, 2003 and 2004,

2 Decree of the President of the Islamic Transitional State of Afghanistan on the Afghan National Army, 1 December 2002.

3 Decree 25, President of the Islamic Transitional State of Afghanistan, 25 May 2003.

4 Sean J. Byrne, Brigadier General, US Army, Director of Military Personnel Policy, letter to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 2 April 2004.

5 Sean J. Byrne, US Army, letter to HRW, 24 June 2004.

6 Sean J. Byrne, US Army, 2 April 2004, op. cit.

7 UNICEF, Rapid assessment on the situation of child soldiers in Afghanistan, July 2003.

8 IRIN, "Pakistan: Fears of increased Taliban recruiting from Islamic Schools", 26 September 2001,

9 AFP, "Breeding grounds for Taliban soldiers thrive in Pakistan", 13 November 2001.

10 New York Times, "12-year-olds take up arms against Taliban", 2 October 2001.

11 UNICEF, op. cit.

12 Information from Save the Children, June 2004.

13 UNICEF, op. cit.

14 BBC, "Afghan child soldiers' new start", 10 February 2004,

15 Information from UNICEF, 7 April 2004.

16 AFP/Daily Times, 25 August 2003, 17 IRIN, "UNICEF makes progress in child-soldier demobilization work", 20 February 2004.

18 Information from Save the Children, op. cit.

19 Christian Children's Fund, CCF receives USAID grant to provide assistance for Afghanistan's most vulnerable children, 13 April 2003.

20 USAID, Country Programs: Afghanistan,; Information from Save the Children, op. cit.

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