Afganistan – Bacha Bazi Cultural Practice

Diaspora News: Feature

DID YOU KNOW……………………………………………………………………THAT……

In Afghanistan, there exists this centuries-old heinous practice called “Bacha Bazi” (Persian for “Boy Play”).

Well, it is a custom consisting of systematic sexual abuse of young boys by older men. The boys range from the age of 9 to 18 years. The boys are either coerced, kidnapped or purchased, and are forced into “sexual entertainment”. They’re made to dress like women and dance in a sensual manner in the gathering of older men. Child prostitution and sexual slavery also forms a part of it. The men making these boys do these things are often powerful, and could be warlords, police officials, politicians, tribal leaders, or other influential men. Often, these men consider owning “dancing boys” as a symbol of high social status.

The boys live a life of misery, suffering rape, abuse, and other kinds of exploitation. If they try to escape, they’re beaten or even killed. Those who succeed to escape are shunned by their families and the society, and end up becoming beggars, drug addicts, or criminals, while also enduring the consequences of their abuse. When the boys become too old for this vile custom, many of them get into the business of child trafficking, as in bringing young boys to the pedophiles engaging in Bacha Bazi.

When Taliban came to power in the 90s, they outlawed this practice, but it was hardly enforced. Sometimes, the victims were punished instead of the actual perpetrators. After the ouster of the Taliban 2001, Bacha Bazi increased exponentially, with the authorities and security forces often being either direct perpetrators or complicit in the exploitation of children.

During the presence of the US troops in Afghanistan, many American soldiers were disgusted upon seeing these young boys being exploited like this. However, as per a report by NY Times, their higher ups instructed them to not interfere, as doing so might mean that their Afghan allies that were fighting besides them against the Taliban, may turn hostile. However, some soldiers did act though, for example when an Afghan police officer raped a 12-year old boy, he got severely beaten up by two US special forces soldiers. The soldiers were initially separated from their unit involuntarily, but were later reinstated.

In the last decade, the Afghan government made several promises of investigating and severely punishing child sexual abusers in the military. However, despite their promises, the cases kept on rising. And now that Taliban is back in power, there’s obviously no way that any government from the outside can pressure them to act on it.

As of today, Bacha Bazi still remains a widespread practice in Afghanistan, with more and more young boys falling prey to powerful pedophiles, having their lives ruined forever. It is shameful that this “cultural practice”, which is not only disturbing but downright evil, finds its place in the 21st century.

Tight gender segregation in Afghan society and a lack of contact with women have contributed to the spread of Bacha Bazi. In Afghanistan, women are not allowed to dance in public; instead, boys are being used. Male dominant culture has contributed to the spread of this practice. Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, but those involved in Bacha Bazi justify their actions by saying that, since they are not in love with these boys, it doesn’t apply.

The perpetrators are not being held responsible for crimes they commit, therefore, impunity and gender inequality continue to contribute to the spread of the practice. The factors such as a lack of legislative frameworks, inadequate rule of law, a weak justice system, a corrupt judicial system, illiteracy, poverty, powerful militias groups involved in the practice, and instability, have also contributed to the spread of the practice. According to military experts in Afghanistan, the lawlessness that followed the deposing of the Taliban’s in rural Pashtun and northern Afghanistan gave rise to violent expressions of pedophilia. The Pashtun rural culture is mostly male dominated and misogynistic, which gives rise to a system of gender reversal. Factors such as chronic instability, gender inequality, displacement, inadequate services, access constraints and discriminatory practices fueled the underreporting of conflict-related sexual violence across Afghanistan, contributing to the rise of Bacha Bazi.

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