Helping the Boy Sex Slaves of Afghanistan

In Afghanistan, it is called bacha bazi.   

Though literally meaning "boy play" in Persian, it can apply to a wide range of sexual practices involving an older man (who is usually called a bacha baz) and a younger boy, often ranging in age from fourteen (or younger) up to the age of eighteen.   Many of these boys are either abducted from their families or purchased outright and coerced into doing whatever the older man wants, whether dancing, playing games, or for sex.   Believed to date back to ancient times, the traffic in boys reached an all-time high following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.   As Mujahideen spent long periods away from home fighting in remote regions, often alongside  boy soldiers, forcing them into sexual relationships became common.  

Declared a capital crime under Taliban rule, most government officials tended to turn a blind eye to the practice considering many who were involved were powerful and well-connected warlords, including members of the former Northern Alliance militia and the Taliban.   Since the invasion of Afghanistan and the establishment of U.S. military control of many parts of the country, accusations of U.S. forces ignoring bacha bazi and allowing the practice to continue remain common.   The prevalence of bacha bavi highlights the bizarre double standard that applies to same-sex relationships in Afghanistan and surrounding areas.   As one prominent journalist recently described bacha bavi as “the tragic situation where consensual homosexual relations are punishable by death, while exploitative relationships with boys are simply winked at.”

While the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) warned as recently as December that bacha bazi is again on the increase, little real progress is being made to stamp out the practice.   Even groups such as the Taliban are openly exploiting young boys despite their public opposition to homosexuality.   More alarmingly, bacha bazi boys are also being forced to become suicide bombers.   In April 2015, a sixteen year old boy was arrested by the Afghan National Directorate for Security over his attempt to bomb the Bagrami district police headquarters in Kabul.   Investigators found that the boy had been gang-raped and then directed towards the intended target.   Other sources say the Taliban is using these boys to lure in Afghan soldiers and policemen as well.  When not being used in combat, bacha bazi boys are also used as dancers at weddings and parties, including being forced to wear makeup and women's clothing.   

Even after being released by their masters at the age of eighteen, bacha bazi boys continue to report lingering trauma from their years of slavery.   They also face the stigma that often surrounds bacha bazi and which can prevent former slaves from becoming reintegrated into society.  While human rights groups in Afghanistan are attempting to do more to help victims of domestic abuse  and people injured by land mines and IEDs, there is little institutional support available for the victims of bacha bazi.     Instead, bacha bazi boys tend to become pariahs who are shunned by family members and friends. 

Though organizations such as AIHRC do their best to raise public awareness, bacha bazi will likely remain a fact of life in Afghan society for a long time to come.

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