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Grave Abuse Alleged at Kabul Juvenile Centre
Entrance to the Kabul Juvenile Rehabilitation Centre. (Photo: IWPR)
The death of an inmate at a juvenile detention centre in the Afghan capital Kabul has raised concerns that lax procedures have left children vulnerable to assault and sexual abuse.
Massoud Khalil, 17, died after being assaulted at the detention centre, apparently by two older inmates.
The acting head of the local forensic science office, Dil Agha Mahbubi, confirmed that Massoud’s death was caused by blows to the head.
“Two older criminals, who are related to powerful individuals, asked my son to engage in illegal sexual relations,” Massoud’s father Abdul Khalil said, wiping away tears. “My son fought against them and they beat him so much – in the presence of police and other kids – that he eventually died.”
A police officer who asked to remain anonymous told IWPR he witnessed the assault on Massoud from outside the detention centre, but was unable to intervene and rescue him because he had no mandate to enter the facility.
Although the facility is supposed to house only minors under the age of 18, some inmates are said to be older than that. IWPR has heard from several sources that these individuals have influential relatives who have got them admitted to the juvenile detention centre so they will serve shorter sentences and be saved from the rigours of adult prison, but that some then use their age and status to engage in bullying and violence.
Massoud’s father Abdul Khalil said that whenever he visited the detention centre, his son complained that abuse was prevalent there.
“My son said there had been clashes after the older kids had made illegal demands,” he said. “Even though officials were aware of it, they didn’t do anything about it.”
A 16-year-old boy who had been placed in the detention centre after running away from home told IWPR that older boys threatened and beat the younger ones and forced them into sexual acts.
“Moral corruption is the biggest problem at the centre, but sadly no one cares,” he said.
His story was backed up by another boy, who described a culture of gangs and “older individuals constantly harassing the younger children”.
Managers of the detention centre have not named either of the individuals accused of assaulting Massoud Khalil, nor have they said whether any action will be taken against them.
The justice ministry, under whose remit the centre falls, has been similarly reticent. Ministry spokesman Farid Najibi said he was unaware what had happened to the two accused inmates.
He also denied that “powerful people” had influence over the centre’s running or over any detainees who might be related to them.
Despite coming up against a general reluctance to talk, this IWPR reporter obtained high-level permission to visit the juvenile centre.
Although she was able to speak to children inside, her contact with them was constrained by the constant presence of director Aziza Adalatkhwah. This appeared to deter many from speaking out.
Despite looking intimidated, one inmate said. “We don’t have good food, we have no leisure areas, and we are beaten. In the name of God, please solve our problems.”
While not prepared to discuss allegations of abuse, Adalatkhwah said the centre was overcrowded and short of accommodation, sports and leisure facilities, and teaching staff.
“The centre is designed to hold 60 people, but because of rising crime rate, there are 200 children here. They include 30 girls, most of them imprisoned for running away from home,” she said.
Under Afghan law, women and girls who run away from home can be imprisoned. (See Afghan Runaways Flee Forced Marriages on this issue.)
IWPR’s reporter was able to talk to some of the girls who are held in a separate part of the detention centre.
One 14-year-old, who did not want to give her name, said she was still there even though her sentence for running away from home had finished.
“The children of the powerful do whatever they want here,” she commented. “The law is made for the poor and the weak.”
Jamilurrahman Kamgar, head of the appeals court for southern Kabul, denied that juvenile cases were dealt with unfairly or that decisions were subject to delay. “All these allegations are untrue,” he said.
On the presence of over-18 inmates, one employee at the centre told IWPR on condition of anonymity that this allegation was true, and was the direct cause of rising offences within the detention centre.
“These older criminals produce documents showing them to be under 18, after bribing police or the forensic department, or making use of personal contacts,” he said. “We have no choice but to admit them. That’s the reason why we have a lot of problems here.”
Mahbubi rejected allegations that forensic officials had knowingly passed adult offenders off as minors.
“A commission has been set up to determine age, and I do not believe a doctor would compromise his conscience for money or anything else,” he said.
General Mohammad Zaher, head of the criminal investigations department for Kabul region, denied any police role in wrongdoing, insisting that “the police don’t have anything to do with determining people’s age”.
Police have, however, expressed concern about the death of Massoud Khalil, and say action must be taken to prevent any repetition.
“The centre for reforming and civilising [juveniles] has turned into a centre of anarchy and corruption,” General Zaher said. “Officials at the centre must be prosecuted so that no more children like Massoud are killed there.”
Esmatullah, the head of the juvenile offences department with the Kabul police, explained that the force was responsible for security only outside the detention centre. This had been the case since responsibility for the centre was transferred from the police to the Afghan justice ministry a year ago.
“For as long as these children fell within the police’s mandate, we would visit them at the centre every day. We would search their rooms and provide constant protection,” he said. “The centre is now directly supported by the justice ministry, and the lack of police involvement has led to this chaos.”
Abdul Khalil insists his son was not even guilty of the theft of which he was accused. Neighbours told IWPR he was well-behaved and had completed 12 years of schooling, and that the alleged crime would have been completely out of character.
According to Abdul Khalil, the boy was taken in on the basis of a false claim made by a neighbour, and was detained at a police station for three days when the maximum permitted period is 24 hours. He was then moved to the juvenile detention centre.
Police official Esmatullah said neither his force nor prosecutors were able to find evidence that Massoud had committed the offence in question.
Mohammad Bilal Siddiqi, deputy head of advocacy for child rights at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, would not comment on the allegations of sexual abuse at the juvenile centre, but said the justice ministry had been unresponsive.
After the human rights commission wrote to the judiciary raising concerns about the age of detainees, he said, a decision had been take to transfer 40 inmates above the age of 17 to adult prisons.
“On several occasions, we have told the justice ministry it must ensure the juvenile [detention] centre meets international standards, but they have paid no attention to our recommendations,” he said. “We hope that IWPR will deliver our voice, and the people’s voices, to officials.”
Mina Habib is an IWPR-trained journalist in Kabul.
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