Afghan evacuation raises concerns about child trafficking

Afghan evacuation raises concerns about child trafficking
3 min read
03 September, 2021
US officials at intake centres in the UAE and the United States have identified numerous incidents in which Afghan girls have been presented to authorities as the 'wives' of much older men.
One internal document seen by the Associated Press says the State Department has sought “urgent guidance” from other agencies after purported child brides were brought to the US [Getty - file photo]

US officials are looking into reports that in the frantic evacuation of desperate Afghans from Kabul, older men were admitted together with young girls they claimed as “brides” or otherwise sexually abused.

US officials at intake centres in the United Arab Emirates and in Wisconsin have identified numerous incidents in which Afghan girls have been presented to authorities as the “wives” of much older men. While child marriage is not uncommon in Afghanistan, the US has strict policies against human trafficking that include prosecutions for offenders and sanctions for countries that don't crack down on it.

One internal document seen by the Associated Press says the State Department has sought “urgent guidance” from other agencies after purported child brides were brought to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. Another document, described to the AP by officials familiar with it, says Afghan girls at a transit site in Abu Dhabi have alleged they have been raped by older men they were forced to marry in order to escape Afghanistan.

The State Department had no immediate comment on the documents or the veracity of the details in them. Officials say that they take all such allegations seriously but that many of them are anecdotal and difficult to prove, particularly amid the crush of Afghan evacuees at multiple locations in the Middle East, Europe and the United States.

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A 27 August situation report sent to all US embassies and consulates abroad as well as military command centres in Florida points to potential issues involving young girls and older men, some of whom claim to have more than one wife at Fort McCoy, a sprawling 60,000-acre (243-square-kilometer) Army base in Wisconsin. Relevant portions of the document, titled "Afghanistan Task Force SitRep No. 63," were obtained by the AP.

“Intake staff at Fort McCoy reported multiple cases of minor females who presented as ‘married’ to adult Afghan men, as well as polygamous families," the document says. “Department of State has requested urgent guidance.”

There was no immediate indication from the military or from the departments of homeland security and health and human services, which run the facility, that such guidance had been received.

At the same time, US officials in the United Arab Emirates have expressed similar concerns, sending a diplomatic cable to Washington warning that some young Afghan girls had been forced into marriages in order to escape Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover.

Officials familiar with the cable say it describes allegations by several girls at the Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi that they had been sexually assaulted by their “husbands” and seeks guidance on how to handle such cases. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss internal communications.