“I am in cold weather. I am suffering. I cannot walk. My hands and feet are tied. Save me,” Abdul Rauf, a nine-year-old boy in Afghanistan’s Balkh province, says in a video released by his kidnappers this week.
Rauf’s father, Mohammad Nabi, told VICE World News the kidnappers have raised the ransom amount to $1.7 million since they first took him captive in late October. “I don’t have money. I’m a store owner,” said Nabi, adding that kidnappers regularly send him messages over the phone. “They say they are tracking me and are aware of whom I am meeting.”
Nabi said he has not spoken to his son since the day he was abducted around 6:30 am in Mazar-e-Sharif city when he was in a car on his way to school.
Rauf’s sister, Gazal, who witnessed the abduction, told Afghan news outlet TOLO News that it was a Toyota Corolla with at least four people inside. They were wearing masks and military uniforms.
Gazal has now stopped going to school.
The Balkh police have arrested 14 suspects on kidnapping charges in a case that has gripped the country.
A surge in crime including kidnapping, robbery and murder, has posed new challenges for an Afghan police already bogged down in fending off attacks by the Taliban.
According to media reports, at least one million Afs ($12,000) has been paid to kidnappers in November this year to get three people released.
The United Nations has verified 19 cases of abduction, involving 41 boys and two girls. Out of these, 32 were attributed to the Taliban, six to Islamic State Khorasan Province, and one to a pro-government militia.
The scale of violence in Afghanistan is relatively low due to the ongoing peace talks between the U.S. and Taliban. The New York Times reported in February that the brief window of calm from terrorist attacks has provided a wake-up call to Afghan security officials. “They say the country’s law enforcement has been so militarized over the two decades of constant war with the Taliban that officers are profoundly unprepared for the basic needs of policing in time of peace.”
Last year, the abduction and murder of a six-year-old girl triggered a nationwide outcry. Kidnapped from a street in Kabul, Mahsa Ahmadi was strangled to death when her parents were unable to pay a ransom of $300,000. Two minors were sentenced to 30 years in prison in the case.
In March this year, the eight-year-old son of a retired employee of the Ministry of Interior Affairs was kidnapped and killed in eastern Kabul.
According to the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), there has been a surge in child kidnapping cases since 2014. After being taken, many are then trafficked to neighboring countries to serve as drug mules. “The children kidnapped are forced by drug smugglers to swallow capsules of heroin and smuggle them to Iran and Pakistan,” noted AIHRC.
Kidnappers of a 17-year-old boy in Herat city smuggled him to Pakistan and sold him to a man when his parents could not pay $50,000 in ransom. After working doing menial jobs for the man for four years, the boy escaped, returned to Kabul with the help of Afghan men, and reunited with his family.
Earlier this month, the public as well as Rauf’s family and teachers stepped up pressure on the Afghan government to act swiftly and ensure his release. “Abdul Rauf was a talented and capable student. He was very polite. His absence gives me pain whenever I remember him,” TOLO News quoted Khairuddin Noori, Rauf’s teacher as saying.
Abdul Rauf’s grandfather started a sit-in protest demanding that intelligence agencies should catch the kidnappers at the earliest.
While intelligence agencies have launched multiple operations to trace Rauf, his family is running out of patience. “They have to do something because we have no power or money,” Rauf’s father said. “All we can do is to wait for the security forces or government to take some action and find him.”
Additional reporting by Ali M Latifi.
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