Child Offenders Held in Police Cell

Temporary closure of youth detention centre is causing headaches for the authorities.

Child Offenders Held in Police Cell

Temporary closure of youth detention centre is causing headaches for the authorities.

Kabul’s young offenders are being locked up in a police prison while the authorities wait to reopen a youth detention centre.

Around 30 child prisoners are now being held at the police headquarters while the juvenile correctional facility, now used as a courthouse, looks for a new home.

The puritanical Taleban cracked down heavily on crime, with kids arrested for the pettiest of offences, such wearing colourful clothes.

The former detention centre - or Darel Tadeeb, an Arabic phrase meaning House of Training – provided its young inmates with educational and professional training, such as carpentry, carpet weaving and tailoring.

The detainees, administered by a 90-strong staff, were also encouraged to take part in sports such as volleyball and wrestling, and were given adequate food and medical attention.

President Karzai has called for an alternative site for the Darel Tadeeb, but none has been found, leaving the wayward children languishing in police cells.

All the current crop of inmates are boys – Karzai released all the girls in a good-will gesture on Independence Day last month – and most of them have committed serious offenders.

“Listening to music, having hairstyles and wearing colorful clothes are no longer considered to be crimes in this country,” Kabul police chief Abdul Baseer Salangi told IWPR.

“The only children arrested now are those who commit crimes such as murder, robbery, causing traffic incidents or running away from home.

“These young offenders really should be trained in educational institutions such as Darel Tadeeb. A large number of them lost their fathers during Afghanistan’s many conflicts, and have been left to wander aimlessly on the streets.”

The children are currently kept in a one-story building, guarded by two soldiers. When IWPR visited, all 31 inmates lay in the centre of a room with a barred door. There was just one small window and five beds covered in dirty blankets.

The detainees had a number of complaints about their treatment. “We are not given food and medicine. Our room is bad and we have only one hour a day for exercise outside,” said one, who preferred not to be identified.

Samad, from Kapeesa province just east of Kabul, was locked up for murder. “I have been in this prison for six months. Nobody comes to ask about me. The prisoners who do not have visitors are facing lots of problems, as the police give us nothing,” he said.

Parents and relatives of the young detainees are also critical of the facilities. “We want our children to be admitted to training institutions such as Darel Tadeeb, not thrown in prison,” said one father, who did not wish to be named.

And Abdul Rasheed, another worried parent, told IWPR, “My child has been in the prison for two months. I have complained about the problems many times, but nothing has yet been done about it.”

However, police chief Salangi is quick to deny the allegations. “We are providing food, medicine and entertainment for these youngsters while they are staying here - and we are also trying to be very nice to them,” he said.

Habibul Rehman Ibrahimi is a freelance journalist in Kabul.

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