Afghanistan’s ‘Dancing Boys’ Exploitation on the Rise

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April 5, 2012

“A growing number of Afghan children are being coerced into a life of sexual abuse,” The Washington Post reported today in a rare look at  bacha bazi, which literally translates to “boy play.”

“I had a boy because every commander had a partner. Among the commanders there is competition, and if I didn’t have one, then I could not compete with them.” — Mestary, a former senior commander in The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan.”

More commonly referred to in the West as “dancing boys,” bacha bazi is an ancient practice in which young boys are sold by families to “entertain” wealthy merchants, warlords and military commanders. It’s widely acknowledged that the boys are often sexually exploited.

Afghan human rights researchers, Western officials and men involved in the dancing boys trade told the Post the illegal practice — which was harshly punished under the Taliban — is growing in post-Taliban Afghanistan. But due to social taboos, few are willing to talk openly about the exploitation.

In 2010, veteran Afghan reporter Najibullah Quraishi went undercover to investigate this illicit sex trade for the FRONTLINE film The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, which is embedded above. In detailed conversations with several bacha bazi masters in northern Afghanistan and with the dancing boys they own, Quraishi revealed a culture where wealthy Afghan men openly exploit some of the poorest, most vulnerable members of their society.

Dig Deeper:

See our interviews with Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and Nazer Alimi, who compiled a report on bacha bazi for UNICEF, for more details on this underreported exploitation.


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