Young boys are being sexually abused in Afghanistan in line with a tradition where they are bought by older men to dance at parties.
The practice of “bacha baazi”, meaning “boy-play”, is enjoying a resurgence in the North of Afghanistan where ownership is seen as a status symbol by militia leaders according to Afghan news site, e-Ariana.
While condemned by clerics and human rights groups, authorities are doing little to end it.
Dancers, known as “bacha bereesh” or “beardless boys”, are under 18, with 14 being the “ideal” age.
Owners or “kaatah” meet at bacha baazi parties in large halls where the boys dance late into the night, before being sexually abused.
Bacha baazi also serve as marketplaces, with good-looking boys being traded for money.
“Some men enjoy playing with dogs, some with women. I enjoy playing with boys,” said 44-year-old Allah Daad, a one-time Mujahedin commander in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz, who participates in bacha baazi.
“I am married, but I prefer boys to women,” he adds. “You can’t take women with you to parties in this region, and you can’t make them dance. These boys are our prestige.”
Often poor and orphaned, the boys are lured into bacha baazi by money. Some receive a monthly allowance while others have jobs of their own and only work at parties.
Many are treated to expensive clothes and even cars by owners eager to have them reflect their own wealth and social standing.
But if they refuse to perform or don’t meet their owners expectations, they are beaten.
While the long-standing tradition enjoys some public support in the north, religious leaders have denounced it as one of the most sinful acts.
In the Taliban controlled south of Afghanistan, where a strict moral code is enforced, it is no longer practiced.
Mawlawi Ghulam Rabbani, a religious leader in Takhar province, told e-Ariana:
“Making boys dance and sexually abusing them is strictly prohibited by Islam. Those who engage in it should be punished. They should be thrown off a mountain and stoned to death.”
As those who organise bacha baazi are usually leaders of armed militia groups, however, police and government are fearful to intervene.
Hafizullah Khaliqyar, head of the prosecutor’s office for Baghlan province said:
“Regional commanders engage in this practice and support it.
“They have money, power and weapons, and neither the district heads nor the local population dares to tell us about this.”
Mohammad Zaher Zafari, head of the northern branch of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, sees a dark future ahead for the boys involved. And he believes that without external aid, the situation will continue long into the future.
“It’s shocking from both a humanitarian and a legal point of view,” he told e-Ariana.
“If the United Nations and the government don’t take this issue as seriously as they do child-trafficking and drug-smuggling, and punish the offenders, it’s going to be almost impossible to prevent it.”