Afghanistan is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Afghan boys and girls are trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation, forced marriage to settle debts or disputes, forced begging, as well as forced labor or debt bondage in brick kilns, carpet-making factories, and domestic service. Afghan children are also trafficked to Iran and Pakistan for forced labor, particularly in Pakistan's carpet factories, and forced marriage. Boys are promised enrollment in Islamic schools in Pakistan, but instead are trafficked to camps for paramilitary training by extremist groups. Afghan women and girls are trafficked within the country and to Pakistan and Iran for commercial sexual exploitation and temporary marriages. Some Afghan men force their wives or daughters into prostitution. Afghan men are trafficked to Iran and Pakistan for forced labor and debt bondage, as well as to Greece for forced labor in the agriculture or construction sectors. Afghanistan is also a destination for women and girls from Iran, Tajikistan, and possibly China trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. Tajik women are also believed to be trafficked through Afghanistan to Pakistan and Iran for commercial sexual exploitation. Trafficked Iranian women transit Afghanistan en route to Pakistan.

The Government of Afghanistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Government actors continue to conflate the crimes of kidnapping and trafficking; this poor understanding of trafficking poses an impediment to targeted intervention. An undeveloped judicial and prosecutorial system, judicial delays, corruption, and weak coordination remain obstacles to effectively punishing trafficking offenses. In addition, Afghanistan punishes some victims of sex trafficking with imprisonment for adultery or prostitution, acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Although the government lacks resources to provide comprehensive victim protection services and did not adequately punish all identified acts of trafficking, its newly instituted victim referral process, launching of victim referral centers, and passage of anti-trafficking legislation demonstrate progress in providing increased protective services for trafficking victims and punishment of their exploiters.

Recommendations for Afghanistan: Increase law enforcement activities against trafficking, including prosecutions, convictions, and imprisonment for acts of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, including debt bondage; ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution or adultery; collaborate with NGOs to ensure that all children, including boys, victimized by sex and labor trafficking receive protective services; and undertake initiatives to prevent trafficking, such as instituting a public awareness campaign to warn at-risk populations of the dangers of trafficking.


Despite the enactment of anti-trafficking legislation, it is not clear whether the Government of Afghanistan adequately prosecuted or punished trafficking offenders over the reporting period. In July 2008, the government enacted an anti-trafficking law, the Law Countering Abduction and Human Trafficking, through presidential decree; the law prescribes penalties of life imprisonment for sex trafficking and "maximum term" imprisonment for labor trafficking, which, in practice, is between eight and 15 years. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. According to government records, there were no prosecutions under the new anti-trafficking legislation. The government, however, reported the convictions of 62 trafficking offenders under statutes criminalizing kidnapping and rape; sentences reportedly ranged from five to 18 years' imprisonment. It is unknown how many cases may have been prosecuted that resulted in acquittals. As the government was unable to provide disaggregated data or specific case information, it is unclear if these offenses meet the definition of trafficking or whether they address labor trafficking offenses. The Ministry of Interior's (MOI) six-person counter-trafficking unit made some initial arrests and investigated an unknown number of these cases. The government reported difficulty engaging Pakistani authorities for joint investigation of transnational trafficking cases. In 2008, the MOI stationed personnel at airports and border crossings to detect trafficking cases. There was no evidence that the government made any efforts to investigate, arrest, or prosecute government officials facilitating trafficking offenses despite reports of widespread complicity among national and border police.


The government's protection of trafficking victims remained poor, but showed improvements during the reporting period. The government lacked resources to provide victims with protective services directly; NGOs operated the country's 18 shelters and provided the vast majority of victim assistance, but some faced hardships due to threats from the local community, particularly when assisting in cases that involved so-called "honor" crimes. Serious concerns remain regarding the government's punishment of victims of trafficking for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Female trafficking victims continued to be arrested and imprisoned or otherwise punished for prostitution and fleeing forced marriages. However, NGOs noted a decrease in arbitrary detentions after the late 2007 signing of a formalized referral agreement among the MOI, the Ministry of Woman's Affairs (MOWA), and various shelters, and the opening of two government-run referral centers. Under this new procedure, police refer women victimized by violence to MOWA which, in turn, refers the women, including trafficking victims, to appropriate NGO facilities. The MOI's referral center in Jalalabad assisted female victims of trafficking and other crimes with support from MOWA and UNIFEM. Its four MOI officers investigated cases and four MOWA paralegals provided support and legal advice to the women. A second referral center opened in April 2008 in Parwan. The government referred and transported victims to IOM and NGOs during the reporting period, but did not provide information on the number of victims assisted in this manner. An NGO reported that the police referred 23 victims and the MOWA referred four to its shelter in Kabul. The MOI referred the majority of the 40 victims assisted by IOM in 2008. There are no facilities in Afghanistan to provide shelter or specific protective services to male trafficking victims; during the reporting period, some trafficked boys were placed in government-run orphanages and a facility for juvenile criminals while their cases were being investigated. MOWA staff reportedly visited prisons during the reporting period to ensure women and girls in custody are not victims of sex crimes or sex trafficking; concrete results from these prison visits are unknown. There is no evidence that the government encouraged victims to assist in investigations of their traffickers during the reporting period. The new anti-trafficking law permits foreign victims to remain in Afghanistan for at least six months.


During the reporting period, the Afghan government made negligible efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not carry out any public awareness campaigns to warn at-risk populations of the dangers of trafficking or potential traffickers of the consequences of trafficking. Ministry of Justice officials participated in a televised roundtable discussing the July 2008 anti-trafficking law. The government did not take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the reporting period. Afghanistan has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


This 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.