“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.
In a recently released Clover Films documentary, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan“, a reporter and his crew expose the world of bacha bazi. They told one man, Dastager, who keeps a “stable” of boys, a fabricated story about them comparing bacha bazi with a similar practice in Europe. Dastager and his cohorts completely opened up to the reporter and gave an intimate and disturing look into Afghanistan’s bacha bazi culture.
These “dancing boys” are young. Dastager bought one boy, Shafik (though his name was changed), from a destitute family in the countryside. The boy looks no older than nine.
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 they 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 expolitation, 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, camera’s 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. Sign our Care2 petition and tell the UN envoy to Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, to encourage President Karzai to enforce laws against bacha bazi and end the practice once and for all.
photo via isafmedia on Flickr