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.
PBS Frontline broadcasted on January 3 a thought provoking reportage on Afghanistan’s opium brides. Reporter Najibullah Quraishi journeyed into the Afghan countryside to reveal the deadly bargain local farm families have been forced to make with drug smugglers in order to survive.
Watch this story and related stories in Frontline’s website.
For more information on the opium brides, read also “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: Perspectives on the Impact of Drug Policies on Young People.
The ‘War on Drugs’ has not only affected people but also the environment. Current drug policies have not reduced the environmental harm caused by illicit drug production but actually increased them according to the latest briefing by ‘Count the Costs’, a project launched earlier this year by a range of organisations, including the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy.
Deforestation and pollution are just some of the devastating effects of the current drug control policies. Chemicals used to wipe out illicit crops in Colombia have affected its rich flora and fauna. The so called ‘balloon effect’, the phenomenon by which law enforcement displaces production in one region causing it to expand in another one as drug producers mobilise to meet demand) has also led to significant deforestation in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, Myanmar, Thailand and the United States.
As a result of the balloon effect, there has been “widespread deforestation, jeopardising the 200 species of oak tree and the habitats of numerous endemic bird species” in Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountain range. In Peru, 10% of the total rainforest destruction over the past century is due to the illicit drug trade.
Although authorities argue the need to continue such policies precisely to avoid the environmental harm done by illicit production of drugs, the briefing highlights that “they have simply transferred these harms to more remote, ecologically sensitive areas such as the Amazon forests – an unavoidable consequence of the balloon effect.” The benefits are elusive as production is only displaced but not eliminated.
The consequences on development should also be considered as it is the most vulnerable and poor who are caught in the middle of supply reduction strategies. As criminals target areas with ‘little economic infrastructure or governance and suffer from high levels of poverty’, many farmers have few alternative means of earning a living outside of the drug trade. At the same time, law enforcement’s methods to eradicate crops, such as aerial spraying with chemical herbicides, destroys not only illicit but also licit crops, such as food crops. Water deposits in natural parks have also been contaminated due to the proximity of illicit crops to natural protected areas.
Other environmental harms include the massive consumption of electricity for the production of hydroponic cannabis and its corresponding CO2 footprint, or toxic waste dumping in the production of methamphetamines.
As a result, ‘Count the Costs’ recommends national authorities and international funders to take due consideration of environmental concerns at all levels. Thorough scrutiny of the impact of drug control policies on the environment is long overdue. This includes not only a more careful scrutiny as mentioned above, but also to explore “a range of alternative systems, including decriminalisation of personal possession of drugs, and models of legal regulation”.
Read the full version of the briefing here.
Reuters reported that a group of human rights activits have requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open a formal investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Mexico.
They are asking the world’s first permanent war crimes court to investigate “the deaths of hundreds of civilians at the hands of the military and drug traffickers in Mexico, where more than 45,000 have died in drug-related violence since 2006.”
Netzai Sandoval, Mexican human rights lawyer and member of the group that filed the complaint to the ICC, told Reuters: “We want the prosecutor to tell us if war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Mexico, and if the president and other top officials are responsible.”
The petition, signed by 23,000 Mexican citizens, also calls for an investigation on the responsibility of Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, Public Security Minister Genaro Garcia Luna, and Mexico’s army and navy commanders.
President Calderon has deployed 50,000 troops throughout the country since 2006, while the “federal police have swelled from 6,000 to 35,000.”
Human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have documented systematic violations of citizens. According to a report published this November, HRW has documented evidence of 170 cases of torture, 24 extrajudicial killings and 39 forced disappearances in five Mexican states.
The Mexican government denies the complaint arguing that security policy issues cannot constitute an international crime.
To read the full story, click here.
The panel, chaired by Damon Barrett, editor of ‘Children of the Drug War’ included three of the contributors of ‘Children of the Drug War’. Jennifer Fleetwood, lecturer at the University of Kent, who talked about the impact of the ‘war on drugs’ on women and children in Ecuador’s prisons.
Michael Shiner, lecturer at the London School of Economics, talked about the limits of harm reduction in England and Wales and addressing drug use among young people. Steve Rolles, from Transform and author of ‘After of War on Drugs: Blueprint for Regulation’, presented ideas about how to better protect children and young people through State regulation instead of prohibition. He argued that the prohibition paradigm instead of reducing the harms from drugs, has actually increased it, either by the availability of impure or contaminated drugs in the market or through the violence associated with actors trying to control the illlict drug market.
Damon Barrett concluded the discussion by saying that drug policy tends to obscure the human side of it. Underpinned by concepts and such as in “prison populations” and “seizures” drug control hides from our view the people targeted by drug control, and as a result we might run the risk of overlooking the harms caused by inadequate policies.
To listen to the seminar, click here
To download the book, click here
‘Children of the Drug War: Perspectives on the impact of drug policies on young people’ Damon Barrett (ed)
August 9, 2011 by Damon Barrett
Filed under Access to essential medicines, Children and youth, Conflict, Crop eradication, Discrimination, Drug dependence treatment, Harm reduction, Issues, News & Commentary, Policing, Prisons, Trafficking, United Nations: Drug Control, United Nations: Human Rights, ‘War on Drugs’
‘Children of the Drug War’ is a unique collection of original essays, edited by Damon Barrett (Project Director at the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy), that investigates the impacts of the war on drugs on children, young people and their families. With contributions from around the world, providing different perspectives and utilizing a wide range of styles and approaches including ethnographic studies, personal accounts and interviews, the book asks fundamental questions of national and international drug control systems:
- What have been the costs to children and young people of the war on drugs?
- Is the protection of children from drugs a solid justification for current policies?
- What kinds of public fears and preconceptions exist in relation to drugs and the drug trade?
- How can children and young people be placed at the forefront of drug policies?
Four thematic sections address:
- Production and trade
- Race, class and law enforcement
- Families and drug policy
- Drug use and dependence
The book is published by the International Debate Education Association (iDebate Press). It is available for purchase in hard copy from amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other outlets.
A pdf of the full book and pdfs of each of its four sections are available for free download. It may also be read online.
Neither Mexico’s government nor the various independent groups studying organized crime keep track of the number of children dubbed ”narco orphans,” who have lost one or both parents to the drug war.
Jo Tuckman, 11 August 2010
Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, launched his presidency three and a half years ago with an unprecedented military-led offensive against the country’s drug cartels. Since then 28,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence that continues to escalate, with little sign that the power of the traffickers has been reduced.
Yesterday Calderón finally accepted that the strategy had failed to rein in the cartels, and called on his growing number of critics to help him revise the government’s approach to the drug wars.
“I agree that the strategy should be questioned,” the president said. “And so I am willing to receive and analyse proposals of how to change and improve it.”
The admission came days after Calderón’s predecessor called for drugs to be legalised. Vicente Fox, who also belongs to the National Action party, said prohibition had failed to curb violence and corruption. “We should consider legalising the production, sale and distribution of drugs,” Fox wrote on his blog. “Radical prohibition strategies have never worked.”
Calderón himself fervently opposes legalisation, although he recently called for a “fundamental debate” on the issue. He has also claimed that Fox’s relative inaction in the face of the cartels’ growing power contributed to the current situation.
In the latest of a series of government-organised debates on the drug war, Calderón repeated that unilateral legalisation would increase drug use and do little to reduce the cartels’ income. But he was forced to listen to blistering attacks on the government strategy by opposition leaders.
“The government’s strategy is not working,” Jesus Ortega, leader of the leftist Democratic Revolution party, said. “If the government only attacks the traffickers then the error, and the failure, of the strategy is evident.”
Ortega also railed against the use of the army and navy in anti-drugs operations. Critics of the offensive say the military’s lack of preparation for an internal policing role has caused human rights abuses.
Calderón said he agreed that withdrawing the military was desirable, but impossible until civilian state and municipal police forces had been purged of rampant corruption and were strong enough to face the problem on their own.
The sessions also produced complaints about the scant attention paid by the government to the money-laundering that fuels the illegal industry and finances the violence. Mexican drug trafficking is estimated to be worth anywhere between $10 billion (£6.4b) and $40b a year.
Calderón admitted that not enough had been done to track illicit earnings but said the government had trouble hiring top financial experts who could make much more money in the private sector without putting themselves in danger.
The president agreed with calls by other leaders on the need to improve education and employment opportunities for young people to help them avoid drug use or recruitment by the cartels.
Analysts said the Mexican president’s new willingness to open the debate marks a dramatic departure from his previous tendency to equate any criticism with a capitulation to organised crime.
“In almost four years the government cannot claim any kind of victory and the debate is the result of the crisis of legitimacy in the strategy,” said Samuel Gonzalez, a former Mexican drugs tsar who has been pushing for a rethink for years. “But at least it is now being discussed and that has to be a good thing.”
The debate was also seen as an attempt to spread responsibility for the bloodshed. “If we join together we can win this battle,” Calderón said. “But if we continue to lack coordination and blame each other, the simple truth is that we cannot move forward. I understand perfectly well that there is a perception that the war is being lost, but I do not share it.”
The main problem, he said, is that local public institutions are too weak to maintain control when the forces withdraw.
He added: “I am asking for the political parties for their help, their strength and their collaboration to allow us to rebuild the institutions of security and justice at all levels,” he said. “We can beat the criminals. We can re-establish the rule of law in this country.”
Mexico’s drug violence is rooted in a series of turf wars between different trafficking organisations that are also involved in other illegal activities, such as kidnapping, extortion and people trafficking. The violence and the number of civilian casualties has increased since December 2006, when the government launched an offensive against them involving tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police. The main axis of the war is the rivalry between the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas – a group founded by renegade special forces troops. Sinaloa, led by the country’s most famous kingpin, Joaquin El Chapo Guzman, is based in the Pacific coast state of the same name. The Zetas control much of the Gulf coast. Both Sinaloa and the Zetas are also present in other parts of the country. One of the most intense current battles is for control of the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas, just across from Texas, where Zetas are fighting their erstwhile bosses in the Gulf Cartel, which has now reputedly allied with Sinaloa.
Other relevant trafficking organisations involved in the wars include La Linea, which is based in Ciudad Juarez, just across from El Paso in Texas, and is trying to hold off the encroachment of Sinaloa. Here the extreme violence is intertwined with rivalry between local youth gangs reflecting a dramatic degree of social decomposition.
Elsewhere, the quasi sect-like group called La Familia is rooted in the central state of Michoacan, and the Tijuana cartel maintains its bastion in the border city just over from San Diego in California. The Beltran Leyva group is involved in a bitter struggle for control of the organisation following the death of its leader in a navy operation last year
17 June 2010 – A report released today by UNODC shows how organized crime has globalized and turned into one of the world’s foremost economic and armed powers.
The Globalization of Crime: A Transnational Organized Crime Threat Assessment, released at the Council of Foreign Relations in New York, looks at major trafficking flows of drugs (cocaine and heroin), firearms, counterfeit products, stolen natural resources and people (for sex and forced labour), as well as smuggled migrants. It also covers maritime piracy and cybercrime.
“Today, the criminal market spans the planet: illicit goods are sourced from one continent, trafficked across another and marketed in a third,” said UNDOC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa. ”Transnational crime has become a threat to peace and development, even to the sovereignty of nations,” warned the head of UNODC. “Criminals use weapons and violence, but also money and bribes to buy elections, politicians and power – even the military,” said Mr. Costa. The threat to governance and stability is analysed in a chapter on regions under stress.
The full report is available via UNODC’s website
‘Jamaica: Forces attack gang leader’s stronghold‘, New York Times/AP
UPDATE: Jamaican army accused or murdering civilians, Guardian