Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bacha Bazi: Afghan Boys Sexually Exploited

They're called Bacha Bazi or Bacha Bereesh. Haven't heard about them? They are young boys in Afghanistan, often kidnapped, trafficked, or sold into prostitution, who are forced to dress as girls and dance erotically for men who will usually use them for sex. If they run away and are caught, they are often killed, abused, or abandoned. Though illegal in many Near Eastern countries (and contrary to Islam), the phenomenon is so widespread that even the law enforcement of the region has been observed to participate in the practice. The question is, what is being done to put a stop to it? What is being done to help these boys to freedom? Very little, sadly, despite everyone's obvious moral objection to it. They are true silent victims, and a little more outcry would go a long way to inducing the UN to put pressure on these countries to abide by their own laws and crack down on this shameful tradition. As of yet, despite its valient and laudible efforts to educate girls in Afghanistan, the UN hasn't seriously tackled this abuse of human rights.

Afghanistan sees rise in ‘dancing boys’ exploitation
A growing number of Afghan children are being coerced into a life of sexual abuse. The practice of wealthy or prominent Afghans exploiting underage boys as sexual partners who are often dressed up as women to dance at gatherings is on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to Afghan human rights researchers, Western officials and men who participate in the abuse.

Over the past decade, the phenomenon has flourished in Pashtun areas in the south, in several northern provinces and even in the capital, according to Afghans who engage in the practice or have studied it. Although issues such as women’s rights and moral crimes have attracted a flood of donor aid and activism in recent years, bacha bazi remains poorly understood. 

The State Department has mentioned the practice — which is illegal here, as it would be in most countries — in its annual human rights reports. The 2010 report said members of Afghanistan’s security forces, who receive training and weapons from the U.S.-led coalition, sexually abused boys “in an environment of criminal impunity.”

But by and large, foreign powers in Afghanistan have refrained from drawing attention to the issue. There are no reliable statistics on the extent of the problem
Uncovering the world of "bacha bazi" 
In detailed conversations with several bacha bazi masters in northern Afghanistan and with the dancing boys they own, reporter Quraishi reveals a culture where wealthy Afghan men openly exploit some of the poorest, most vulnerable members of their society.

"What was so unnerving about the men I had met was not just their lack of concern for the damage their abuse was doing to the boys," Quraishi says. "It was also their casualness with which they operated and the pride with which they showed me their boys, their friends, their world. They clearly believed that nothing they were doing was wrong."

"It's a disgusting practice. ... It's a form of slavery, taking a child, keeping him. It's a form of sexual slavery," says Radhika Coomaraswamy. U.N. special representative for Children and Armed Conflict. "The only way to stop bacha bazi is if you prosecute the people who commit the crime, and that's what we need, because the laws are there in the books against this practice."

In the documentary, Quraishi interviews local police officials who insist that men who participate in bacha bazi will be arrested and punished regardless of their wealth or powerful connections. Later that day, however, Quraishi's cameras catch two officers from the same police department attending an illegal bacha bazi party.

"Many of the people who do this work for the government," says Nazir Alimy, who compiled a report on bacha bazi for UNICEF. "They speak out against it but are abusers themselves. ... I personally cannot mention any names because I am scared."

Quraishi speaks with some dancing boys who fear they will be beaten or killed. "If they stray, they get killed," says a 13-year-old dancing boy. "Sometimes fighting happens among the men who own the boys. If you don't please them, they beat you, and people get killed."
How long will we tolerate more silent victims?