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Afghanistan launches investigation into alleged school paedophile ring

25 Nov 2019 The Guardian

Afghanistan’s Ministry of Education has launched an urgent investigation after it emerged that hundreds of boys have been sexually abused in its schools.

Earlier this month, the Guardian reported that at least 546 boys from six schools in Logar province had been abused, after more than 100 videos were discovered on a Facebook page, since taken down.

Civil society organisation the Logar Youth, Social and Civil Institution, which uncovered the abuse, claimed the perpetrators of the abuse were teachers, local authority figures and older students, as well as extended family members.

A social worker working for the civil society has been forced to go into hiding after receiving threats because of the revelations. Some of the victims have been murdered, by their families or unknown perpetrators, after being identified as victims.

The revelations sparked a national debate on child abuse involving members of parliament and civil society.

The education minister tweeted last week that he had “met the governor of Logar, the MPs, chair of provincial council and other influentials from this province to assess and study the accusations.”

The ministry spokesperson Nooria Nazhat told the Guardian: “We are taking any schoolchildren abuses very seriously and have zero tolerance for such issues.”

Rahman Rahmani, speaker of Afghanistan’s House of the People, described the alleged child abuse as “appalling”, and called for the punishment of the perpetrators.

But some have been outraged by the accusations. In Logar’s capital, Pul-i-Alam, groups of men took to the streets on Saturday to protest against the claims.

Logar’s governor Mohammad Anwar Ishaqzai has denied the abuse allegations are true. Nazhat said that he considered the Logar findings “inaccurate”.

MP Sayed Ahmad Khadem said: “Some countries, some advertising networks, are trying to destroy this great and heroic nation.”

Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesperson, said in a WhatsApp message that the abuse “is not happening in areas under our control. This is the kind of unrest going on in areas under the Kabul administration.”

One survivor of the abuse, Daud, 18, said that many of the boys were living in fear. “Logar’s people stand against us,” he said. “They started a strike. I am very scared and others are too.”

Many of the boys have since changed their phone numbers, while others have left Logar for other provinces. Mohammed Mussa, a lead social worker at the Logar’s Civil Society Organisation, said he has been forced to move for fear of retribution.

Male sexual abuse is widespread in Afghanistan and the country has a long tradition of bacha bazi dancing boys who are often made to dress like girls and are forced into sexual relations with older men.

Despite its own efforts over recent years to investigate child abuse, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said: “Research still shows that there are cases of child sexual abuse, especially of children in different provinces of the country.”

Afghanistan is deeply rooted in traditional values and many people put their family’s – and society’s – “honour” above all.

Afghanistan paedophile ring may be responsible for abuse of over 500 boys Read more

“Within communities, denial is a way to remove themselves from the stigma and the social ostracism that reports of such abuse carry,” said Charu Lata Hogg, executive director of the All Survivors Project. “What becomes central is not the suffering, trauma and violation that the boys suffer, but the social approbation which would diminish the respectability of that community.”

She said Afghan law criminalises sexual exploitation of children, but awareness of the issue is low, despite a presidential decree in March.

“Even those who are aware of it disregard it because of the overriding climate of impunity,” she said. “By admitting that boys are raped and that this form of abuse is rampant, officials would be admitting to not taking action against a violence that is not just unlawful, but also an unacceptable act under Islamic law.”

International bodies, including UN agencies, embassies and human rights lawyers have pledged to help the children who have come forward.


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