‘The Taliban Made Me Fight’: What to Do With Child Recruits After They Serve Time?

KABUL, Afghanistan — The 14-year-old boy squatted on his haunches on the floor of the prison and, unbidden, began to chant the verses of a Pashto poem in a high, beautiful voice. It was an a cappella elegy in which a prisoner implores his family not to visit him on the Muslim holiday of Eid.

And do not come to us for Eid, for we are not free to welcome you.

I don’t want you to look at my chest, for there are no buttons on my shirt.

Don’t come to this asylum, for we are all lunatics in here.

The boy’s name was Muslim, and he was among 47 boys being held in the Badam Bagh juvenile detention center in Kabul as national security threats. Most were charged with planting, carrying or wearing bombs, and many of them, like Muslim, were accused of trying to become suicide bombers.

None of Muslim’s family visited him during Eid last summer. “They are angry with me,” he said. “I don’t blame them.”

For the authorities, children like him present a conundrum: what to do with them when they finish their sentences, which often range from two to 10 years. Many will be released just as they reach adulthood, when they are even more capable of causing mayhem.

The boys in what Badam Bagh officials call the suicide bombers wing ranged in age from 12 to 17. Their cases were in various stages; some had been convicted and were serving their sentences, while others were awaiting trial.

They shared one complaint: As far as they were concerned, there were no attempted suicide bombers in the suicide bombers wing, which is on the third floor of the prison.

Muslim, who is from Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan, said he was only a Taliban conscript.

“I am not a suicider,” he said. “The Taliban made me fight for them.”

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