Noor Mohammad, a 14 year old boy from Ghazni province in central Afghanistan, was forced to become a suicide bomber after local Taliban fighters caught him stealing. Two weeks ago, Mohammad was outfitted with an explosive vest and instructed him to walk to the nearby American military base and blow himself up. On his way to the base, the teen realized he couldn’t go through with his deadly mission. His crisis of conscience led him to make a fateful choice. “It is a sin to kill yourself and to kill others, so I threw the vest away,” he told the Guardian’s Jon Boone.

Mohammad spent that night sleeping on the ground outside the American base. When he was finally allowed inside, he surrendered to the Americans and volunteered to lead them to a house in the nearby village where Taliban fighters were hiding. Following Mohammad’s information, the soldiers discovered and destroyed a Taliban weapons cache.

But Mohammad wasn’t rewarded for his courage. Instead, he was handed over to the Afghan security forces and jailed. Now, Mohammad is in a juvenile detention center in Kabul, awaiting trial on unspecified charges. Mohammad’s treatment bodes ill for the increasing number of children forced into fighting for the Taliban and affiliated groups.

Keep in mind: The use of child soldiers in armed conflict is defined as a war crime under international law and prosecuted as such by the International Criminal Court. In 2009, I wrote:

The United States and its allies must look past the Taliban’s religious visage and treat it as what it is: a collection of armed, non-state groups that routinely violate international law and view children as ammunition. The flip side the American media’s portrayal of the Pakistan and Afghanistan Taliban as something exotically evil and inscrutable is a perverse romanticizing of militant leaders who have much in common with Joseph Kony and Thomas Lubanga. The children who fight for the Taliban are just as much victims of adult manipulation, and of their adult superiors’ war crimes, as the child soldiers of central Africa. Rehabilitation and reintegration should be prioritized for all child soldiers, no matter who they took up arms for, or why. International forces will no doubt encounter more of the Taliban’s child soldiers in the future. Those sad, exploited children should be treated not as enemy combatants, but rather as the victims they are.

Noor Mohammad should be in a safe house, undergoing counseling and awaiting permanent resettlement outside of Afghanistan. So, why is he in jail?

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