It was just like any other busy day in Kabul, Afghanistan. The city spat out pollution, and people bustled to and from their Sunday morning activities.
Sajad Agha slowed his motorcycle as they turned into the street where the Ahmadi’s lived. His cousin, Rohullah, sat behind him. They did not have to wait for long before 6-year-old Mahsa Ahmadi emerged from her home. Cautiously, they followed her until they had the chance to grab her and speed off.
At midday, Mr Ahmadi – Mahsa’s father – received the call that parents have come to dread in modern-day Kabul. The kidnappers demanded $300,000 for the return of the little girl. The impoverished man – who earns just around $15 a day to support his family of five – pleaded and promised that he would sell all that he had for the return of his child. Yet, his entire assets were worth a mere $10,000.
By the time the kidnappers called again by the evening, the police were there. This time, however, Mr Ahmadi recognised the voice of the man and furiously told them that he had informed the police. Some say it was a mistake – one that proved to be fatal.
The next morning, Mahsa’s body was found curled up in the foetal position, her little hands clenched into fists. She had been strangled. Overcome with grief, her father fell to her knees and sobbed. Images of the scene would soon go viral, sparking national outrage. Livid protestors stormed the capital, demanding that the perpetrators be hanged.
A statement from President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani said that he was deeply grieved by the incident involving the kidnap and murder of the 6-year-old and called the criminal incident as ‘unacceptable’, instructing the relevant authorities to strictly pursue the case and severely punish the culprits.
In May, the judge sentenced them to 30 years in prison, due to the fact that the duo was both under 18.
Yet, this is not some one-off incident. The ravages of war over the past few decades have taken its toll on the country. Apart from the bombs and gunfire, the people of Kabul are facing a new danger. Almost every day, someone in Kabul is kidnapped. Class or wealth does not matter – both rich and poor are targets. Worryingly, kidnappings involving children have become increasingly more common. Sometimes, after they are abducted, the children are also sexually abused.
Many Afghans are trying to find money to pay smugglers the thousands it would cost them to make it to Europe so that they can claim asylum. And apart from money, there could be other reasons for the child’s abduction such as family ties or sexual assault.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said that the children who were being kidnapped were also vulnerable to being forced by drug smugglers to swallow capsules of heroin and then smuggled to Iran and Pakistan. Alarmingly, body parts of some kidnapped children have been removed and sold in the organ trade. Other children ended up on farms doing manual labour.
One 17-year-old boy, “Omaid”, described in an interview how he had been kidnapped in western Herat province. While working as an apprentice in a mechanic’s shop, he was bundled into a car full of men one evening when he left work for home.
When his family could not afford to pay the $50,000 that his kidnappers demanded, he was eventually smuggled into Pakistan where he was sold to a wealthy man. There, he remained for four years where he was forced to work for the man. Omaid also alluded to being sexually abused throughout his ordeal. Fortunately, with the help of some Afghans, he was finally able to flee and reunite with his family in Afghanistan.
To date, there are still many children missing and the kidnappings still continue.