By Sarah Jancs, CNN, Pakistan — As child soldiers continue to return to war-torn areas in Pakistan, many children are leaving behind them a shattered, traumatized legacy.
The child soldiers return home and say they want to help their families.
The Taliban have targeted children in Afghanistan and Iraq, but child soldiers often face harsh punishments and the Taliban often deny any responsibility for the atrocities they commit.
In Pakistan, child soldiers are among the most marginalized people.
The Taliban have repeatedly targeted them, but many of them say the Taliban are protecting the children from Taliban retribution.
“I don’t think there’s any responsibility to them, and that’s why they return home,” said Ahmedullah, a Taliban member who lives in a remote part of the tribal areas of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border.
“I’m not saying they are the enemy, but they are protecting us.”
Child soldiers have also faced an uphill battle in Pakistan.
There are a handful of child soldiers and their families living in Pakistan and the Pakistani military often doesn’t have the resources to deal with them.
A government report released in March 2016 said the Taliban, who have killed tens of thousands of people, abducted and tortured child soldiers.
“In the past few years, child protection authorities have increased their activities against child soldiers,” said Shahzad, the child soldier.
“This has meant they are being attacked, and they are receiving the same punishment as adults.”
“It’s very hard to get funds from the government because of the war,” said Shafqatullah, the Taliban member.
“But we are very strong.
We are ready to fight, and we will fight back.”
Shafqah, who left Afghanistan in 2012, was abducted in 2014, then returned to the country, where he and other child soldiers were arrested and tortured.
He was released after a year and a half, but is still not allowed to return home.
“They [the Taliban] are protecting them, so if you want to return, you should fight them, I would say,” said the young man.
“If you do not want to fight with them, you shouldn’t come back.”
Children in the tribal regions of North-West Frontier Province, where the Taliban control much of the area, have faced even more violence than the rest of Pakistan.
According to the U.N. Children’s Fund, over one million children and girls are in armed conflict in North-Waziristani.
That is a large number of children.
In a report released last year, the U of N’s Child Survival Commission, a U.S.-based organization, estimated that one in four children are at risk of becoming child soldiers, either due to violence or neglect.
“Children are being kidnapped by the Taliban,” said Riaz, a child soldier in the region.
“They take their children and sell them into captivity.”
In 2015, the United Nations called for an end to child forced labor in the country.
Human Rights Watch called for a global ban on the trafficking of children, and the United States, Britain, and other countries joined with the call.
Child soldiers are being recruited in the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Central Asian republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.
In Afghanistan, the government says it is helping children return home but many say they need help.
In 2014, a number of child troops were killed in a Taliban attack in the province of Helmand.
One of the Taliban commanders was shot in the back and killed.
“There are some [child soldiers] who are returning home, and many more who have been kidnapped,” said Zahid, the commander of the Afghan army’s special forces unit.
“Many of them are going back to fight again.”
The U.K. government says children in Pakistan are being “saved” by the Afghan government, but there is no data on the numbers.
Some say the U and Afghan governments are keeping the information out of the public domain because of safety concerns.
The United States has also said it is assisting child soldiers returning from the conflict zones in Afghanistan, but has yet to release statistics.
“If we can’t measure how many child soldiers we are supporting, how can we say whether it is working?” said U.M.N.’s Shah.
“In many cases, the returnees say the government is helping them, while in others, the governments are actively working to destroy their communities.”
For child soldiers from the North-East Frontier Province in Pakistan’s Baluchistan Province, the battle to rebuild their communities is even harder.
“We don’t have any resources, no money, nothing, nothing,” said a child, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Zafar.
“We are not able to work, we are not allowed any jobs.”
Zafar and his brother