How hostage parents used 'games' to help their kids cope with the Taliban's twisted rituals.

It’s a story that’s made headlines all over the world: Caitlan Coleman and Joshua Boyle were barely married a year when they embarked on a backpacking trip through Central Asia.

It wasn’t meant to be a long trip – Caitlan was five months pregnant at the time – but in late 2012, the pair were kidnapped by the Haqqani network, a terrorist organisation with links to the Taliban.

They were held captive for five years, until they were finally rescued by Pakistani troops on October 12 this year.

Caitlan gave birth to three children – now aged four, two and six months –  during her imprisonment, one of them by flashlight.

Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and kids imprisoned. Image via AP.
Joshua Boyle, Caitlan Coleman and their children, imprisoned. Image via AP.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, the couple has revealed how they fought to keep their kids alive and safe during their time in captivity.

The games and stories they made up are shocking, but show the extent the parents were willing to go to to help their children cope with a life where they were unable to even see the sky.

"It was difficult," Caitlan, now aged 31, said of trying to give her children as normal an upbringing as possible.


"We would just teach them to use things like bottle caps or bits of cardboard, garbage essentially, but what we could find to play with and tell them, 'These are toys'."

There were far more disturbing 'games' invented as their eldest son - now four years old - became aware of the ritualistic beheadings that were a very real danger to the family.

When asked if their son understood the danger he and his family were in, Caitlan replied, "I think he did". The couple took extreme measures to protect their son when they heard that some other hostages in other camps were being beheaded.

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The couple made up 'games' about beheadings to protect their eldest son. Image via ABC News.

"He certainly knew that this type of thing could happen to his family," Caitlan said.

"So he had great fun pretending to be Oliver Cromwell chasing Charles I around and trying to behead him," she said.

"We made it a game so he wasn't afraid."

But despite the games and the 'toys' they invented for their children, Caitlan was never able to give her children the type of childhood she had.

"What made me the saddest [as prisoners], was that I didn't have an opportunity to show my children the types of things that I grew up with," she said.

"Playgrounds, zoos, things like that."

Since their release and return to Canada, the couple have faced criticism for continuing to expand their family while at the mercy of their terrorist captures.

In an email to The Associated Press in mid-October, Joshua Boyle said he and Caitlin decided to "make the best" of their situation.

"We're sitting as hostages with a lot of time on our hands. We always wanted as many [children] as possible, and we didn't want to waste time," he wrote, 9 News reports.

"Cait's in her 30s, the clock is ticking."

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Caitlan with her youngest child, a six month old daughter. Image via ABC News.

It's a statement made all the more puzzling when Caitlan told ABC News that her captors "actively hated" the children, who were regularly beaten and even witnessed their mother being sexually assaulted.

"Some of the guards actually actively hated children and would somewhat target [our eldest son] and come up with reasons to hit him...claiming that he was making problems, he was being too loud," she said.

"Sometimes that's how I would get beaten or hit... because I was trying to protect them."

Now back, and safe from their kidnappers, Caitlan wishes her children will never have to experience such fear ever gain.

"My wish for them now have enough fun to make up for the years of trauma they've had to endure," she said.

"I hope they find enough happiness and joy to make up for it."