By Zach Ammerman
It was pushed back by the Taliban, but now, some experts say it’s making a comeback. It’s something so controversial that most Afghans refuse to talk about it or to even acknowledge its existence.
It’s 1 a.m. in northern Afghanistan, and a group of armed, powerful older men are gathered around a very young boy dressed in women’s clothing with fake breasts and bells around his ankles. He dances provocatively for them.
This scene is what opens a recent, deeply disturbing piece by the BBC World Service’s series, “The Changing World.”
In this deeply conservative part of the world, women are not allowed to dance in public. Young boys often fill the vacuum in their absence. But the dancing is not the most unsettling part of this practice. It’s only after the dancing is done and everyone goes home that the children are sexually abused.
The ancient practice of bacha bazi (Persian for “playing with children”) has been going on in Afghanistan for centuries, but after the fall of the Taliban, some experts are seeing a revival of the practice of sexual slavery and child prostitution.
The young boys, called bachas, are kept by rich and influential men as status symbols. Many of the men are powerful warlords in the conflict-ravaged country and are effectively immune to legal punishment.
The bachas are often sexually abused by these men or sold to others for the same barbaric purpose.
The bachas frequently come from poor families and are often orphans who are sold or sell themselves to help support their families.
In the BBC program, contributor Rustam Qobil travels through Afghanistan investigating this practice. What he finds is shocking.
Qobil finds dozens of bacha bazi dance parties similar to the one described above, where hundreds of older men gather around one or two provocatively dancing young boys.
Afterward, the bacha is taken back to a hotel or residence holding hands with one or more older men.
Qobil spends months in a search to find a bacha who is willing to talk to the reporter about what happens after this. He finally finds one, whom he calls Omid (not his real name).
Qobil asks the bacha what happens when people take him to hotels. He bows his head and pauses for a long time before answering.[utubew]u71l74-7xUM[/utubew]
“Omid says he is paid about $2 for the night. Sometimes he is gang raped,” Qobil said.
Qobil interviews several such bachas who have tragically similar stories.
The local Afghani police authorities are not only unwilling to prosecute or investigate this practice — they refuse to admit that it even exists.
Qobil interviews a local police chief about the practice, who responds, “We haven’t had any cases of bacha bazi in the last four to five years. It doesn’t exist here anymore.”
But a member of Parliament for Northern Afghanistan insists that the practice is having a revival “in almost every region of Afghanistan,” and that “our officials are ashamed to admit that it even exists.”
Qobil said every Afghan that he interviewed knew what bacha bazi was, but many insisted that it was something that happened only in remote areas of Afghanistan.
But Qobil attended a bacha bazi party late one night in the old quarter of Kabul, less than a mile from the seat of the national government.
There, he found a man he called Zabi (not his real name), a 40-year-old man with three bachas.
“My youngest bacha is 15, and the oldest is 18. It wasn’t easy to find them. But if you want it badly, you will find them,” he said.
“Some people like dog fighting, some practice cockfighting. Everyone has their hobby. For me, it’s bacha bazi.”
Originally published on Indiana Daily Student on Nov.16, 2010.