BY: NADIA ZAIDI
The trafficking of young girls and women is a global human rights violation, but in Afghanistan young boys are exclusively the targets of sex slavery. It’s an underground world that operates in secrecy from misguided extremism, and is gaining leverage at alarming rates.
The boys who are trafficked into these sex rings are called ‘bacha bazi,’ which means ‘boy play.’ To the unassuming bystander, a dancing boy looks harmless as he performs for the elders around him. In reality, the idea is to arouse the men they dance for and eventually be sold to the highest bidder. A boy as young as 10 years old can be made into a ‘bacha bareesh’ — a dancing boy, who will spend the rest of his formative years as a sex slave. Typically, a boy should be 13 years old when he is first trafficked, and is considered desirable until he is 18.
The boys undergo vigorous dance training for the night they perform in front of large audiences of potential buyers. The night ends with guests bidding for one of the ‘bachas.’ Sometimes things get heated and men can become aggressive and territorial over the boys they find attractive.
Once the dancing is over, the boys are literally passed around from one man to the next. They end up going to men’s hotel rooms where they endure sexual assault. After, it’s months of living with the same man who ultimately becomes their master. They aren’t compensated, but are provided with shelter and food. They continue to have sex with their masters, and at dance parties, various men abuse them.
The men who end up controlling these boys are called ‘play boys.’ It’s a reflection of status and power. Possessing more boys shows that you have more money, as masters are responsible for housing and nurturing their captors.
A country marred in corruption and poverty makes the practice of seeking out young boys viable. Predators often search the streets for “pretty boys” and make promises to their parents of a better life, education, and potential job opportunities. Additionally, offers to pay for the young boys’ eventual wedding is a decisive factor in parents’ decisions to let them go, because a groom’s family will have to pay several thousand dollars for a wedding.
In reality, none of those promises come to fruition. In fact, once the boys are released, or manage to escape, they face a lifetime of stigmatization. Society views these males as gay, and this has devastating consequences in Afghanistan.
The boys don’t really retain their sexuality. Once they are recruited, they are made to dress as girls in skirts and bright makeup. The practice speaks to the country’s popular saying: ‘women are for children, boys are for pleasure.’
Some believe that it is women’s absence in society that has facilitated the sexuality of boys. In Afghanistan, women are exempt from most public places. Girls are not allowed to go outside of their houses. In reality, women selling sex is a bigger taboo than childhood prostitution. Since girls can’t attend parties, men are believed to prefer boys for this reason.
Some of the boys like to drink alcohol to lessen their reality. Since alcohol is banned in Afghanistan, it is sold and bought illegally. If the Taliban found out about these child sex rings, they would be killed.
By the time these boys escape or are too old for the practice, they end up turning into recruiters themselves. It’s an inevitable cycle that sees no immediate end. Currently, there are some laws in place to deal with the bacha bazi, and to start cracking down on the issue, but it’s still not enough.