Children, women and Christians in Afghanistan are in grave danger, experts fear, as the Taliban continues its takeover of the country – today, seizing control of the capital, Kabul.
Armed militants took the presidential palace in Kabul, just hours after Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. The Taliban are now back in control of most of the country, including all key cities, following the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan in July.
Children at risk – World Vision’s response
While thousands of Afghans and foreigners descend upon Kabul airport in an attempt to evacuate the country, World Vision has vowed to remain in order to care for vulnerable children and families.
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“Together with our 300+ Afghan staff, World Vision will stay and deliver,” said World Vision National Director Asuntha Charles.
World Vision warned that “countless more vulnerable children will pay the ultimate price as they are caught up in the maelstrom” in Afghanistan.
“Schools are closed, food is scarce … children and families are in hiding or fleeing.” – World Vision
Already, the organisation is already seeing the effects of Taliban control: “Territories and control are changing at frightening speed, schools are closed, food is scarce and forced displacement figures are soaring. Children and families are in hiding or fleeing and their fundamental rights are being denied.”
This new crisis comes on top of the coronavirus pandemic, in a country already gripped by poverty. More than 30 percent of the Afghanistan population (12.2 million) face acute food insecurity. The UN expects half a million Afghans to be displaced by the end of the year, as they flee across provinces seeking safety. However, sources on the ground report that almost a million – 900,000 people – have already been displaced in the last three months alone.
“Children are at greater risk of violence, abuse and exploitation,” said Charles. “Families who are already struggling to survive destitution related to this conflict, a devastating drought and the effects of COVID-19, are now resorting to desperate measures to protect their children, including against child marriage.
“History has shown that the resilience and fortitude of the Afghan people is extraordinary. But it has its limits. They are now at their most vulnerable and we cannot abandon them now.”
World Vision is calling on the international community to “maintain its presence on the ground to prevent an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe”. Its also advocating for all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to put the lives of Afghan children and families first.
“Children are the single greatest asset to any sustainable, durable solution to multiple crises. For their sake, all sides must put the humanitarian needs of their people first and end this conflict,” said Charles.
“Our presence in [Afghanistan] is more crucial at this point of time than ever.” – World Vision Australia spokesperson
Meanwhile, a World Vision Australia spokesperson has confirmed to Eternity that all its staff in Afghanistan are safe at present.
“We have 300+ local staff, and a small number of international staff, all of whom have been working from their homes. All our staff are reported to be safe,” they said.
“The World Vision Afghanistan office is in hibernation until August 19, and World Vision has temporarily suspended all operations in Herat, Ghor and Badghis provinces.
“Communications are limited at the moment, and the situation is extremely fluid, but we do know our staff are all safe.
“At this stage, WV is determined to stay and deliver as the country has huge humanitarian needs.
“The current challenges in Afghanistan will affect the children to a great extent and so our presence in this country is more crucial at this point of time than ever …
“We operate around 31 projects in four provinces across Afghanistan, mainly in healthcare, education, child protection and livelihoods work since 2001 and recently advocating for vaccination.
“Every year, almost 490,000 children and adults benefit from our programs in four provinces and cities throughout Afghanistan.”
Women at risk – A missionary and Islamic researcher’s response
“I fear particularly for the women,” a researcher from Melbourne School of Theology’s Arthur Jeffery Centre for the study of Islam – who wishes to remain anonymous – tells Eternity.
“They will be barred from education. They will be barred from moving out of their houses unless they have a male relative [accompanying them]. They will virtually be prisoners in their own homes. And if the stories that were repeated in the Pakistan press were true during the first Taliban regime, the Taliban men will enter a woman’s house and they will defile her.”
“If any of the women are seen to be doing anything that the [Taliban’s] religious police consider unlawful, they will be taken out and beaten with a hundred lashes.” – Researcher, Arthur Jeffery Centre for the study of Islam
According to The Conversation, Taliban leaders who took control of the provinces of Badakhshan and Takhar in July issued an order to local religious leaders to “provide them with a list of girls over the age of 15 and widows under the age of 45 for ‘marriage’ with Taliban fighters. It’s not yet known whether they’ve complied.”
“And if any of the women are seen to be doing anything that the [Taliban’s] religious police consider unlawful, they will be taken out and beaten with a hundred lashes,” adds the researcher.
Having lived as a missionary in Pakistan for 25 years, the researcher was aware of the impact of this oppressive regime on women.
“During the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, there were lots of refugees coming and living in the border areas of Pakistan. While I wasn’t personally involved in it, I did know quite a number of people who were working with NGOs in that area.
“It was very difficult for the [NGO workers]. They wanted to teach the women how to recognise landmines and they weren’t allowed to do that. There was also the claim that any vaccines that [NGO workers] were giving would make [the women] infertile, or that the vaccines were created from things that were prohibited to Muslims.
“And also during that time, many Muslim schools were begun in the refugee camps that taught a very strict, very conservative interpretation of Islam.
“When I was in Pakistan, even the Pakistanis revolted against the treatment that was being metered out to [Afghan] women.”
“And as I hear what’s happening in Afghanistan, my heart bleeds,” the researcher says through tears.
“There was one well-known Afghan believer, who had been blinded and he had been severely whipped.” – Researcher, Arthur Jeffery Centre for the study of Islam
This researcher – who is currently studying Christian-Muslim relations – also fears that death awaits any Afghan Christian who reveals their faith under the Taliban regime.
“When I lived in Pakistan, the Christian population of Afghanistan could have been counted on one hand,” they say.
“There may well have been secret believers. There was one well-known Afghan believer, who had been blinded and he had been severely whipped.
“What might be the future of Christians in Afghanistan now? I don’t know. But certainly, if the Taliban find out that anybody doesn’t hold to their particular interpretation of Islam, they’re considered infidels and therefore liable for death.”
While this researcher is still friends with Christians living in Pakistan, “many issues are not discussed. One never knows who might be listening. ”
“We’ve got a great God, and God’s Holy Spirit can move in incredible ways.” – Researcher, Arthur Jeffery Centre for the study of Islam
Despite this seemingly hopeless situation, this researcher is still hopeful about the future of Afghanistan, and even of Christianity in that country.
“We’ve got a great God, and God’s Holy Spirit can move in incredible ways. Look how the church has grown in China and look how the church is growing in Iran.
“No, governments don’t stop God. Governments can make it hard but … ‘the death of the martyrs is the seed of the church’.
“For house churches and Christians [in Afghanistan], it will be very difficult. Yes, I’m sure they will face persecution and maybe even death.
“We have to admit that there are many places where Islam has reigned where the church has died. But God somehow still works; he is still able to do incredible things.
“You have the Coptic churches in a place like Egypt. You have various Coptic churches in places like Syria. God can do things.”
Christians at risk – Open Doors Australia’s response
“Our hearts are heavy with the news coming out of Afghanistan and we’re praying for believers and everyone who may be caught up in the violence,” a representative of Open Doors Australia told Eternity.
“We know it is impossible to live openly as a believer in Afghanistan as leaving Islam is considered shameful, and believing converts are forced to flee the country or be killed.
“Afghanistan remains the second most dangerous country to follow Jesus, on the World Watch List.
“Honour killings are a common occurrence in Afghanistan of those who have bought shame into the family. Believers from a Muslim background can also be sent to a psychiatric hospital, because leaving Islam is considered a sign of insanity.
“When we saw the Islamic State sweep through places like Iraq and Syria, believers were often given the choice of converting to Islam, paying an exorbitant tax, fleeing the country, or being executed.
“Anyone living as a secret believer is at risk of losing their life.” – Open Doors Australia
“With secret believers forced to keep their faith hidden, it is very difficult to determine how many believers were living in Afghanistan when the violence erupted. But it is safe to assume anyone living as a secret believer is at risk of losing their life. Many of these believers have been forced to flee and leave everything they own to find safety in an already unstable and dangerous situation.
“Women are particularly vulnerable, as many will and have been forced into Muslim marriages.
“Open Doors stands with the small community of Afghan believers and we’re calling for urgent prayer on their behalf.
“With the ongoing effects of civil war, the expansion of extremism, food shortages and the raging pandemic, Afghanistan needs urgent prayer from the global Church right now more than ever.”