“One day, I will be back with my family again. I’ll be an engineer and serve my people.”
– Zaher, 11 year old boy, at the Forgotten No More project in Kabul, Afghanistan.
According to the US Trafficking in Persons report, boys are more at risk for forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation and forced drug smuggling, than girls. In response, Hagar established the Forgotten No More project in 2014 to support the recovery of boy survivors. Despite the great need for services, Hagar remains the only organisation providing this specialist care to survivors like Zaher.
Zaher grew up in Kabul with his parents, two sisters and a brother. His father is a bricklayer earning a minimal salary and although making a regular income, the family’s economic situation isn’t great. Zaher’s mother runs a business in the family compound where women bring their dough to be baked in her ovens for a small fee. The eldest son in the family has mental illness and has remained uneducated, but Zaher and his sister received a government education.
Zaher’s parents didn’t pay much attention to him and his siblings and would often be violent towards them. So one day Zaher stole some money and ran away. He made friends with street boys and lived on the streets for a while. When he was eight years old, he was sexually abused by a street gang.
Zaher’s parents eventually found him. When he told them about the abuse, his father threw him into the basement and locked him up in chains. Not only had he stolen from the family, but in Zaher’s father’s eyes, he had also trampled on the family honour because he had been sexually abused and was now unclean. His father threatened to kill him, so Zaher’s sister and brother freed him from the chains and helped him run away from home. Begging didn’t help much and his situation worsened. For a while, he went back to living on the streets, going without food or water for days. But the police found him and he was eventually referred to Hagar.
Today, two and half years later, Zaher is thriving at Hagar’s Forgotten No More Program. He is a happy boy, healthy and smiling. He studies in grade 7 and loves learning. He excels in English and IT classes and has attended vocational training learning how to fix cell phones.
“I am really very happy and thankful for the services provided here. At the beginning, I was not able to make friends. I was shy, depressed and wanted to be isolated. I had no interest in education or other programs, but the sessions I got here enabled me to look at the world from a different point of view. I told myself I want to be an independent man one day, so I want to use every single opportunity to improve more and more. I want to become an engineer and serve my people”.
Currently, community reintegration is challenging for Zaher. Hagar has worked with Zaher’s father providing counselling and mediation over time, but his father is still not ready to accept him back into the family as in his mind, Zaher stepped on the family’s honour when he was abused. His family relatives fear the father so much that they too refuse to look after Zaher. But Hagar’s team are persevering and hold hope that one day Zaher will be able to reintegrate with his family.