Afghan Children Ensnared in Heroin Trade With Iran

Publication date: 16 February 2012

The Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) published this week an exclusive investigation on the use of Afghan children as drug mules, who take high risks to smuggle heroin into Iran.

The story highlights the risks not only from swalling pellets with heroin, which can burst during the way, but also how children are vulnerable to smugglers who use them to bypass the draconian drug trafficking penalties in Iran.

"Some children are killed, while others have been thrown in prison. In fact, children are attractive to the smugglers because they are not executed in Iran, where drug trafficking is a serious offence that carries capital punishment."

Most children earn very little in comparison to the high profits made by smugglers. They often don't know the risks involved or as the report explains, some parents will rent their kids for smuggling.

This highlights the complex situation in Afghanistan, where families depend on the opium trade due to the lack of viable alternative development funding. As one of the children interviewed said “the smugglers exploit our poverty and obligations." The International Labor Office (ILO) and UNICEF define the use of children for drug smuggling as child trafficking and one of the worst forms of child labour.

The tough choices made by families is also evident in the case of farming families who are coerced into giving away their children to repay a debt to local drug lords. For more on this issue read 'In the Shadows of the Insurgency in Afghanistan: Child Bartering, Opium Debt, and the War on Drugs' by Atal Ahmadzai and Christopher Kuonqui, published in Children of the Drug War.

Additional information on child drug mules:

'The use of children in the production, sales and trafficking of drugs: a synthesis of participatory action-oriented research programs in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand', by Emma Porio and Christine S. Crisol, published by the International Labor Office (2004). Click here for the report.

Stop the Traffik: End Child Exploitation, UNICEF UK (2003). Read this report on the changing face of human trafficking and children smuggling drugs into the United Kingdom.

Poverty Provides Growing Number of ‘Drug Mules’, by Angel Paez, published by Inter Press Service(2008). Read the story.