September 24, 2015

If you follow my posts at all you know I concentrate on stories relative to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions.  Occasionally, I just have to “vent”.  Last week I read an article involving one soldier and one marine and their total disgust regarding the practice of Bacha Baiz.  New words for me so I had to seek help from sources knowledgeable about the practice.

A basic definition follows:

Bacha bāzī (Persian: بچه بازی‎, literally “playing with boys”; from بچه bacha, “child”, and بازی bāzī, “game”) is a much-used term in Afghanistan for a wide variety of activities that involve pedophilia. The perpetrator is commonly called Bacha Baz (meaning “pedophile“). It may include to some extent child pornographysexual slavery and child prostitution in which prepubescent and adolescent boys are sold to wealthy or powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities.   Bacha bazi has existed throughout history, and is currently reported in various parts of Afghanistan and apparently is still being practiced.  Force and coercion are a common component of this abuse, and security officials state they are unable to end it because many of the men involved in bacha bazi-related activities are powerful and well-armed warlords including former Northern Alliance commanders.

During the Taliban’s rule (1994-2001), bacha bazi carried the death penalty.  A documentary film by Najibullah Quraishi about dancing boys was screened by the UK Royal Society of Arts on March 29, 2010 and aired by the U.S. TV series PBS Frontline on 20 April 2010.” The practice of dancing boys is illegal under Afghan law, being “against both sharia law and the civil code”, but the laws are seldom enforced against powerful offenders and police have been reportedly complicit in related crimes.

Bacha bazi is a form of pederasty which has been prevalent in Central Asia since antiquity. It waned in the big cities after World War I, for reasons that dance historian Anthony Shay describes as “Victorian era prudery and [the] severe disapproval of colonial powers such as the RussiansBritish, and French, and the post-colonial elites who had absorbed those Western colonial values.”

“Bacha bazi or boy play” is a disturbing practice that entangles Afghanistan’s most vulnerable boys — recruited from the streets or sold to “masters” by their poor families — in a world of violence and sex.

The boys are kept by wealthy, powerful men who train them to sing, dance and play instruments — skills they’ll use to entertain parties made up of all men. The men force the boys to wear women’s clothes and jangling bells. Many times these parties are small and secret, but cameras recorded a bacha bazi circle taking place as part of a wedding celebration, with hundreds of guests.

When the dancing concludes, the boy is then sold to the highest bidder, or shared among the most powerful men for sex.

The bacha bazi culture is filled with exploitation, violence, rape and even murder, if a boy crosses his master or tries to escape the bacha bazi world. These children are puppets for their masters — they’re called names, abused and passed around to their master’s friends. The documentary crew caught one particularly disturbing conversation between men who, when they don’t know the camera is recording, recount a night when a dancing boy laid in a van while the men took turns having sex with him. The men gleefully recalled how “beautiful” the boy was.

Bacha bazi is a world where children are sex objects, and it’s a world where, often, the only escape is death.

The attendees of these parties and the masters of these boys are some of society’s most powerful men, from merchants to warlords. A United Nations report on bacha bazi found many are members of the government. Police told the documentary reporter that people who participate in bacha bazi will be punished no matter how powerful they are. But later, cameras find that same policeman at a bacha bazi party himself. Especially disturbing is the fact that the Chief of the Youth Crime Department was there, as well.

Buying and selling children, and sex acts with children, are illegal, but because such powerful people participate in bacha bazi, it’s extremely difficult to enforce the laws. After the documentary exposing the world of the dancing boys was released, some of the men featured in it were arrested. But soon after, they were back on the streets and practicing bacha bazi again.

The story of bacha bazi is tragic and the situation may seem hopeless, but these boys need our help too much to give up. They’re trapped in bacha bazi’s web and more people need to speak up against this cruel and exploitative practice.

Back to our story.  These two uniformed men were stationed in Afghanistan and witnessed this practice from several ranking members of the Afghan armed forces as well as high-level warlords in the Northeastern part of the country.  They were absolutely repulsed.  Upon bringing this to the attention of their commanding officers, they were told not to worry about it.  We cannot interfere with the society or customs of Afghanistan.

I had always known Afghanistan was behind in cultural and social skills so I pulled up the CIA World Factbook to see what information I could glean from the web site.  Let’s take a look.

  • Ethnic Groups– Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, other (includes smaller numbers of Baloch, Turkmen, Nuristani, Pamiri, Arab, Gujar, Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, Pashai, and Kyrghyz)
  • Languages– Afghan Persian or Dari (official) 50%, Pashto (official) 35%, Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) 11%, 30 minor languages (primarily Balochi and Pashai) 4%, much bilingualism, but Dari functions as the lingua franca.
  • Religions– Sunni Muslim 80%, Shia Muslim 19%, other 1%
  • Population– 32,564,342 (July 2015 est.)
  • Infant Mortality Rate— ( First in the world in infant mortality.)
  • Total:08 deaths/1,000 live births
  • Male:64 deaths/1,000 live births
  • Female:15 deaths/1,000 live births (2015 est.)
  • Country comparison to the world:1
  • Life Expectancy at Birth—
  • Total population:87 years
  • Male:52 years
  • Female:29 years (2015 est.)
  • Country comparison to the world:221
  • Literacy— Definition: age 15 and over can read and write
    • Total population: 38.2%
    • Male52%
    • Female24.2% (2015 est.)
  • School Life Expectancy—
  • Total: 9 years
  • Male: 11 years
  • Female: 7 years (2011)


Afghanistan is a remarkably backward country and seemingly enjoys that position relative to other countries.  Social awareness is completely lacking as seen from literacy rates. There is no wonder bacha bazi is still practiced and from what we have been told,  “According to Abdulkhabir Uchqun, an MP from northern Afghanistan, however, the tradition “is on the increase in almost every region of Afghanistan. He asked local authorities to act to stop this practice but they do not do anything.” Indeed, the evidence suggests the tradition is making a comeback, and official connivance is rife.

Nascent democracies are susceptible to corruption, and often feature weak judicial systems, corporatism, and the absence of the rule of law. Poverty meanwhile fuels the trade in boys, just as it does illegal prostitution or trafficking. Bacha bazi is a disturbing practice that entangles the most vulnerable boys.

Why do we, the United States of America, do business with this so-called government?  Corruption is so wide-spread from top to bottom the country may be beyond saving, at least we have not as yet made much of a dent in corrections that will end this horrible practice.  We know that Burhanuddin Rabbani and Harid Karzai were absolutely corrupt.  Maybe Ashraf Gnani, the current president is somewhat better.  I do feel the American forces have accomplished great work but unless significant improvement is made relative to humanitarian and cultural concerns we just don’t need to be there.

As always, I welcome your thoughts.

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