On Friday, January 28th, Hamida Barmaki, her husband, and their four children traveled to the Finest Supermarket in Kabul, Afghanistan. That same afternoon, a Taliban suicide bomber attacked the market, killing the entire family. All six of them, including Ms. Barmaki’s three daughters, son and husband Dr. Massoud Yama, were standing near the suicide bomber when he detonated the explosives killing at least 14 people in total.
Mrs. Barmaki, a law professor at Kabul University and human rights activist, was the Commissioner for Child Rights at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission. She had dedicated herself to an Action Plan developed to abolish the recruitment and abuse of young boys in Afghan National Security Forces. Afghanistan was blacklisted by the United Nations and placed on their list of countries using child soldiers. Hoping to remedy this, the agreement protects children from the long-standing tradition of bacha bazi, where boys are dressed as girls and sold into prostitution, formally recognizing the child sex slave problem in Afghanistan. Her death fell just two days before the signing of the agreement on Sunday the 30th.
The international pressure to expand Afghanistan’s police and military forces had the unintended consequence of increasing the conscription of children. Afghanistan hopes that participation in the action plan will remove them them from the UN’s list of countries using children in armed conflict, a list of thirteen countries that includes Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“She was a courageous, principled fighter for children and her presence will be deeply missed,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict at the singing of the agreement. A moment of silence was held for her and her family at the signing.
The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative Peter Crowley in Afghanistan said, “She was a close partner and critical ally of UNICEF Afghanistan in promoting and advocating for child rights in the Country. Her death is a great loss to the Child Rights Unit of the AIHRC,” in a statement.
Thousands of people from the community also came together to mourn the loss of Ms. Barmaki and her family at their burial. A colleague spoke about her dedication to helping Afghanistan saying that she had the opportunity to stay abroad but had felt compelled to return to Afghanistan and even turned down subsequent fellowship offers. In addition to her work to fight the use of child soldiers, she set up a charity that provided free legal aid to the poor and was trying to establish more programs for young lawyers. “She was loved by everybody,” her colleague said. “She was a very humble person, very quiet and soft spoken, but when she did speak, it was with great force and humility.”