Cablegate: Juvenile Human Rights at Risk in Afghan Criminal

DE RUEHBUL #3658/01 3161228
P 121228Z NOV 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: According to UNICEF's Chief of Child
Protection, the situation for children in Afghanistan has
improved only slightly, if at all, nationwide -- despite the
proliferation of NGOs in-country and the volume of money
channeled toward children's programs. Poverty-reduction
programs are apparently not reaching many financially
insecure families, creating incentives for juvenile crime and
exploitation. The juvenile justice system, while making some
improvements, often denies children basic rights. This
report is the first in a series of cables on children at risk
in Afghanistan. End Summary.

2. (U) Poloffs met with outgoing UNICEF Chief of Child
Protection Noriko Izumi on September 30 and incoming Chief
Helen Schulte on November 2 to discuss the issues on the
ground regarding child protection in Afghanistan. Child
arrests, particularly those by the National Directorate of
Security (NDS), remain a key UNICEF concern. At any given
time, 20-30 children are being detained in the general
juvenile population for "crimes against national security,"
including suspected suicide bombing. (NOTE: The detention
of children for national security issues contravenes the
spirit of the Afghan Juvenile Code, which presumes that
children cannot be held to the same standard as adults. END
NOTE.) Ironically, NDS child arrests are a means of tracking
insurgency groups' recruitment patterns. The Taliban
allegedly offer high pay to recruits, including offers to
feed the children's families, and they may be targeting
internally displaced persons in camps. Only anecdotal
evidence exists for this claim, however, as UN monitoring has
been impossible given the insecurity and inaccessibility of
certain sections of the country.

3. (U) Background: The law recognizes that children in
custody deserve certain legal protections: in practice, their
basic rights and many aspects of due process are often
denied, including presumption of innocence, the right to be
informed of charges, access to defense lawyers, and the right
to not be forced to confess. Detention is supposed to
function as a last resort, and the juvenile rehabilitation
centers (JRCs) are to house only convicted child prisoners.
But in practice, children are routinely detained pre and
post-trial; some are treated as adults; and some released
into the general prison populations of Ministry of Justice
(MOJ)-run facilities. Many of the juveniles in the criminal
justice system are victims rather than perpetrators of crime,
particularly crimes of sexual exploitation. Some children
are allegedly imprisoned as a family proxy for the actual
perpetrator, who may be a breadwinner.

4. (U) The Juvenile Code regards children at risk, children
in need of care and protection, and children in conflict with
the law, as equally under their purview. One potential
byproduct of such treatment is the unnecessary
institutionalization of children, but according to Izumi,
some juvenile detainees intentionally commit crimes in order
to take advantage of the shelter, food, and education the
juvenile detention centers offer. Yet the conditions of the
JRCs are troubling: only two of the country's 30 JRCs are
owned; the rest are rented, and are thus in serious
disrepair. (NOTE: Four provinces lack JRCs: Panjshir,
Nuristan, Uruzgan, and Paktika. End note.) The Kabul JRC is
severely overcrowded.

5. (U) Some improvements have occurred: The Ministry of
Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and the Disabled (MoLSAMD) has
placed one social worker in the Juvenile Criminal
Investigation Department in Kabul to work alongside police
and prosecutors. This is a small but important start in
recognizing extenuating circumstances for juvenile crime,
particularly petty crimes such as food theft. A June 2008
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between MoLSAMD, the
Ministry of Interior, and the Attorney General's Office,
currently being revised to include the Supreme Court and the
MOJ, makes official the role of social workers in child
protection. On the basis of this MOU, UNICEF developed a
social inquiry report (SIR) summarizing an arrested child's
socioeconomic background so that the prosecution can consider
relevant family circumstances. Since June 2009, the SIR has
been used in every new juvenile case in nine provinces, with
the result of a significant decrease in sentencing to
residential JRCs.

6. (U) Izumi states that a more substantial social welfare
system for families is required; the government appears to
recognize this need. However, a considerable gap remains in
the number of trained social workers, a profession which is
not yet embraced nationally. Social workers lack
certification, and an apparent cultural mistrust of social
work complicates the situation. Formalizing the profession,

KABUL 00003658 002 OF 002

including monitoring and regulatory mechanisms, is therefore
crucial in order to expand child protection activities.

7. (U) Family livelihood opportunities remain the central
source of child protection problems, in Izumi's view. A
recent household income survey found that households on the
western border earned one-fifth the national income; the
incentives for juvenile crime are thus high. (NOTE:
Supporting Izumi's point, a 2007 AIHRC study illustrates the
role of poverty in juvenile crime in Afghanistan: of children
AIHRC surveyed in JRCs, 55 percent rated their family "poor"
or "very poor," 69 percent reported that they had been
working prior to their arrest; 72 percent of boys had not
completed primary school; and 34 percent of offenses were
property-related. Further, "theft" is the second highest
category of arrest, after "ethical crimes". END NOTE.)

8. (U) Izumi believes that poverty-reduction programs cannot
reach the families most desperately in need; the poorest
families often may not qualify, as they are "too risky" to
qualify for micro-finance programs or "too unstable" to
qualify for skills training. (NOTE: Microfinance programs
typically require evidence of creditworthiness with criteria
that impoverished individuals and families often lack: a
social network through which a loan group can be formed;
previous entrepreneurial experience; property documents; or
the recommendation of a community leader or shura. Thus, for
example, internally-displaced persons are often ineligible.
END NOTE.) Izumi said the international community must
accept the blame in these scenarios for their unwillingness
to commit to the neediest families, and thus potentially
exacerbating the very cycle of poverty they seek to break.
Further, Izumi believes that Afghanistan's social network is
fraying and chronically-poor families are increasingly
vulnerable. Despite the proliferation of NGOs in country,
the volume of money channeled toward children's programs, and
NGO efforts to reach the neediest, the social class gap is
widening, and children are increasingly at risk.

9. (SBU) COMMENT: Embassy discussions with other NGOs
involved in child-protection issues confirm Izumi's general
outlook: an increasing number of children are vulnerable due
to a difficult economic environment that compels dramatic
solutions to financial problems, including crime. Once in
the criminal justice system, youth are further at risk since
the justice system, reflecting the culture at large, is only
now beginning to acknowledge the economic roots of juvenile
crime. Further, the system functions in practice with a
presumption of guilt and a lack of recognition of the
different needs of youth. End Comment.

© Scoop Media

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