The Taliban in Afghanistan kidnapped and murdered the eight-year-old son of a policeman last week, according to authorities.

The young boy was taken from a bazaar in the Helmand province after his father refused to join the Taliban or to supply them with police vehicles. Six days later, the child was hanged with a shawl and his body dumped into a stream.

"(He) was brutally hanged and his body was found on Friday," an Afghan interior ministry statement said.

Yousuf Ahmadi, the Taliban's spokesman, rejected the accusation, calling it propaganda "by the puppet Kabul government."

Last year, the Taliban hanged a seven-year-old boy who was accused of spying for the government. It was just one of many kidnappings to occur in Afghanistan in recent years. Insurgents are increasingly targeting children, using them for both ransom and to make political statements.

“President Karzai both strongly condemns this act and rejects it as a brutal and cowardly crime that is not acceptable in any religion or culture,’’ the ministry statement said.

Civilian deaths have risen in Afghanistan by 15 percent in the first six months of 2011, according to the United Nations. Between January and June 2011, more than 1,400 civilians have died in the country due to battles between the Taliban, other insurgent groups and U.S. and NATO forces. Over the same period last year, about 1,200 Afghan civilians were killed.

"They are caught in the middle -- caught between two sides and have little places of refuge and little protection," Georgette Gagnon, director of human rights at the U.N. Mission in Afghanistan, told reporters.

"The Taliban come to any house they please by force," a man from the Helmand province told the U.N.

Afghan officials said on Sunday that NATO forces accidentally killed three civilians during a battle in the Wardak province. The casualties included a doctor and two of her family members.

The Taliban controls a number of towns in Helmand, according to the Associated Press. They use land mines and motorcycles to protect their boarders, and use local markets to traffic opium.

There are currently 30,000 coalition troops in Helmand.