Before anyone comments here that this vice is typical of Islam, it is not. This is an ancient Afghan situation that was removed by the ultra fanatically Islamic Taliban. Now that the Taliban have been weakened, this cultural tradition is reborn. There are not Islamic values. As with so many of the negative things used by Islamophobes, this is cultural, not religious. This does not excuse such behaviour in the least, but it does separate the difference between local cultures and international Islam.
AFGHANISTAN’S DIRTY SECRET ~ THE BACHA BAZI
Westernforces fighting in southern Afghanistan had a problem. Too often, soldiers onpatrol passed an older man walking hand-in-hand with a pretty young boy. Theirbehavior suggested he was not the boy’s father. Then, British soldiers foundthat young Afghan men were actually trying to “touch and fondlethem,” military investigator AnnaMaria Cardinalli told me. “Thesoldiers didn’t understand.”
All of this was so disconcerting that the Defense Department hired Cardinalli,a social scientist, to examine this mystery. Her report, “PashtunSexuality,” startled not even one Afghan. But Western forces were shocked ~and repulsed.
For centuries, Afghan men have taken boys, roughly 9 to 15 years old, aslovers. Some research suggests that half the Pashtun tribal members in Kandaharand other southern towns are bacha baz, the term for an older man with a boylover. Literally it means “boy player.” The men like to boast aboutit.
“Having a boy has become a custom for us,” Enayatullah, a 42-year-oldin Baghlan province, told a Reuters reporter. “Whoever wants to show offshould have a boy.”
Baghlan province is in the northeast, but Afghans say pedophilia is mostprevalent among Pashtun men in the south. The Pashtun are Afghanistan’s mostimportant tribe. For centuries, the nation’s leaders have been Pashtun.
President Hamid Karzai is Pashtun, from a village near Kandahar, and he has sixbrothers. So the natural question arises: Has anyone in the Karzai family beenbacha baz? Two Afghans with close connections to the Karzai family told me theyknow that at least one family member and perhaps two were bacha baz. Afraid ofretribution, both declined to be identified and would not be more specific forpublication.
As for Karzai, an American who worked in and around his palace in an officialcapacity for many months told me that homosexual behavior “wasrampant” among “soldiers and guys on the security detail. They talkedabout boys all the time.”
He added, “I didn’t see Karzai with anyone. He was in his palace most ofthe time.” He, too, declined to be identified.
In Kandahar, population about 500,000, and other towns, dance parties are apopular, often weekly, pastime. Young boys dress up as girls, wearing makeupand bells on their feet, and dance for a dozen or more leering middle-aged menwho throw money at them and then take them home. A recent State Departmentreport called “dancing boys” a “widespread, culturallysanctioned form of male rape.”
So, why are American and NATO forces fighting and dying to defend tens ofthousands of proud pedophiles, certainly more per capita than any other placeon Earth? And how did Afghanistan become the pedophilia capital of Asia?
Sociologists and anthropologists say the problem results from perverseinterpretation of Islamic law. Women are simply unapproachable. Afghan mencannot talk to an unrelated woman until after proposing marriage. Before then,they can’t even look at a woman, except perhaps her feet. Otherwise she iscovered, head to ankle.
“How can you fall in love if you can’t see her face,” 29-year-oldMohammed Daud told reporters. “We can see the boys, so we can tell whichare beautiful.”
Even after marriage, many men keep their boys, suggesting a loveless life athome. A favored Afghan expression goes: “Women are for children, boys arefor pleasure.” Fundamentalist imams, exaggerating a biblical passage onmenstruation, teach that women are “unclean” and thereforedistasteful. One married man even asked Cardinalli’s team “how his wifecould become pregnant,” her report said. When that was explained, he”reacted with disgust” and asked, “How could one feel desire tobe with a woman, who God has made unclean?”
That helps explain why women are hidden away ~ and stoned to death if they areperceived to have misbehaved. Islamic law also forbids homosexuality. But thepedophiles explain that away. It’s not homosexuality, they aver, because theyaren’t in love with their boys.
Addressing the loathsome mistreatment of Afghan women remains a primary goalfor coalition governments, as it should be.
But what about the boys, thousands upon thousands of little boys who arevictims of serial rape over many years, destroying their lives ~ and Afghansociety.
“There’s no issue more horrifying and more deserving of our attention thanthis,” Cardinalli said. “I’m continually haunted by what I saw.”
As one boy, in tow of a man he called “my lord,” told the Reutersreporter: “Once I grow up, I will be an owner, and I will have my ownboys.”
AFGHANISTAN SEES RISE IN ‘DANCING BOYS’ EXPLOITATION
The 9-year-old boy withpale skin and big, piercing eyes captivated Mirzahan at first sight. .
“He is more handsome thananyone in the village,” the 22-year-old farmer said, explaining why he isgrooming the boy as a sexual partner and companion. There was another importantfactor that made Waheed easy to take on as a bacha bazi, or a boy for pleasure:“He doesn’t have a father, so there is no one to stop this.” .
Watch this film”Dancing Boys of Afghanistan,” a PBS investigative documentary from2010.
. A growing number ofAfghan children are being coerced into a life of sexual abuse. The practice ofwealthy or prominent Afghans exploiting underage boys as sexual partners whoare often dressed up as women to dance at gatherings is on the rise inpost-Taliban Afghanistan, according to Afghan human rights researchers, Westernofficials and men who participate in the abuse. .
“Like it or not, therewas better rule of law under the Taliban,” said Dee Brillenburg Wurth, achild-protection expert at the U.N. mission in Afghanistan, whohas sought to persuade the government to address the problem. “They saw it as asin, and they stopped a lot of it.” .
Over the past decade, thephenomenon has flourished in Pashtun areas in the south, in several Northernprovinces and even in the capital, according to Afghans who engage in thepractice or have studied it. . Although issues such as women’s rights and moral crimes haveattracted a flood of donor aid and activism in recent years, bacha bazi remainspoorly understood. .
The State Department hasmentioned the practice ~ which is illegal here, as it would be in mostcountries ~ in its annual human rights reports. The 2010 report said members ofAfghanistan’s security forces, who receive training and weapons from theU.S.-led coalition, sexually abused boys “in an environment of criminalimpunity.” .
But by and large, foreignpowers in Afghanistan have refrained from drawing attention to the issue. Thereare no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem. .
“It is very sensitive andtaboo in Afghanistan,” said Hayatullah Jawad, head of the Afghan Human RightsResearch and Advocacy Organization, who is based in the northern city ofMazar-e Sharif. “There are a lot of people involved in this case, but no onewants to talk about it.” .
. A recent interview withMirzahan and a handful of his friends who sexually exploit boys provided a rareglimpse into the lives of men who have taken on bacha bazi. .
y village in Balkh province,accessible only by narrow, unpaved roads and just a few miles from areas wherethe Taliban is fighting the government for dominance. The men insisted thatonly their first names be used. Although the practice of bacha bazi has becomesomething of an open secret in Afghanistan, it is seldom discussed in public orwith outsiders. .
Sitting next to the9-year-old Waheed, who was wearing a pink pants-and-tunic set called a shalwarkameez, Mirzahan said he opted to take on the boy because marrying a womanwould have been prohibitively expensive. The two have not had sex, Mirzahansaid, but that will happen in a few years. For now, Waheed is being introducedto slightly older “dancing boys.”
“He is not dancing yet,but he is willing,” Mirzahan said with pride. .
“I feel so happy,” theboy said. “They are so beautiful.”
. Sitting nearby was23-year-old Assadula, who said he’s an Afghan soldier assigned to a unit in thesouthern province of Kandahar. Assadula said he has been attracted to teenagemales for as long as he can recall. . Two years ago, he took on a 16-year-old ashis bacha. The relationship will end soon, he said, sitting next to hiscompanion, Jawad, who is now 18. .
“When he starts growing abeard, his time will expire, and I will try to find another one who doesn’thave a beard,” Assadula said. .
Many of the men who havebachas are also married. But Assadula said he has never been attracted towomen. .
“You cannot take wiveseverywhere with you,” he said, referring to the gender segregation in socialsettings that is traditional in Afghanistan. “You cannot take a wife with youto a party, but a boy you can take anywhere.” .
Boys who become bachasare seen as property, said Jawad, the human rights researcher. Those who areperceived as being particularly beautiful can be sold for tens of thousands ofdollars. The men who control them sometimes rent them out as dancers atmale-only parties, and some are prostituted. .
“This is abuse,” Jawadsaid. “Most of these children are not willing to do this. They do this formoney. Their families are very poor.” .
Although the practice isthought to be more widespread in conservative rural areas, it has become commonin Kabul. Mohammed Fahim, a videographer who films the lavish weddings in thecapital, estimated that one in every five weddings he attends in Kabul featuresdancing boys. .
Authorities are wellaware of the phenomenon, he said, as he played a video of a recent party thatfeatured an underage boy with heavy makeup shaking his shoulders seductively asmen sitting on the floor clapped and smiled. .
“Police come because theylike it a lot,” Fahim said, referring to parties with dancing boys. .
“In Afghan society, ifyou are raped or you are abused, you will not have space in society to liveproudly,” he said. .
When Batoorcompleted his project on dancing boys, heassumed that nongovernmental organizations would be eager to exhibit his workand raise awareness of the issue. To his surprise, none were. .
“They said: ‘We don’twant to make enemies in Afghanistan,’ ” he said, summarizing the generalresponse. .
APOST-TALIBAN REVIVAL .
Afghan men have exploitedboys as sexual partners for generations, people who have studied the issue say. . The practice became rampant during the 1980s, when mujahidin commandersfighting Soviet forces became notorious for recruiting young boys while passingthrough villages. In Kandahar during the mid-1990s, the Taliban was born inpart out of public anger that local commanders had married bachas and wereengaging in other morally licentious behavior. .
Afghanistan’s legal codesare based mainly on sharia, or Islamic law, which strictly prohibits sodomy.The law also bars sex before marriage. Under Afghan law, men must be at least 18years old and women 16 to marry. .
During the Taliban era,men suspected of having sex with men or boys were executed. In the late 1990s,amid the group’s repressive reign, the practice of bacha bazi went underground.The fall of the Taliban government in late 2001 and the flood of donor moneythat poured into Afghanistan revived the phenomenon. .
Wurth, the U.N. official,who is leaving Kabul soon after three years of work on child-welfare issues inAfghanistan, said the lack of progress on combating the sexual exploitation ofchildren is her biggest regret. Foreign powers have done little to conductthorough research or advocate for policy reforms, she said. .
“It’s rampant in certainareas,” Wurth said. “But more than that we can’t say. Nobody has facts andfigures.”
Wurth said she wasencouraged by recent discussions with Afghan government officials, who she saidhave begun to acknowledge the problem and have expressed concern about therising popularity of the practice. The sexual exploitation of boys recruited tothe Afghan police force was one of the reasons it was added in 2010 to a U.N. list ofarmed groups that recruit underage fighters, Wurth said. .
But, so far, thegovernment has taken few meaningful steps to discourage the abuse of bachas.Wurth said she was not aware of any prosecutions. .
“A kid who is beingsexually exploited, if he reports it, he will end up in prison,” she said.“They become pariahs.” .