Afghanistan’s ‘Dancing Boys’ Exploitation on the Rise

Share:

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.


In order to foster a civil and literate discussion that respects all participants, FRONTLINE has the following guidelines for commentary. By submitting comments here, you are consenting to these rules:

Readers' comments that include profanity, obscenity, personal attacks, harassment, or are defamatory, sexist, racist, violate a third party's right to privacy, or are otherwise inappropriate, will be removed. Entries that are unsigned or are "signed" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. We reserve the right to not post comments that are more than 400 words. We will take steps to block users who repeatedly violate our commenting rules, terms of use, or privacy policies. You are fully responsible for your comments.

blog comments powered by Disqus

More Stories

Former Worker Sues Tampa Lead Smelter Over Son’s Exposure
The worker alleges dusty conditions at Gopher Resource, Florida’s only lead factory, resulted in his son’s lead exposure.
June 2, 2021
A Handful of States Fueled a National Increase in Domestic Violence Shooting Deaths as COVID-19 Spread
More than 2,000 people were killed by domestic-violence-related shootings in 2020 — a 4% increase across the U.S. over 2019, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. But that uptick was not equally distributed.
June 2, 2021
The Designated Terrorist and the Fight Over the Future of Syria’s Last Opposition Stronghold
In 'The Jihadist,' Martin Smith becomes the first Western journalist to interview Syrian militant Abu Mohammad al-Jolani and investigates his rebranding efforts.
June 1, 2021
Their Brother Catalyzed a Movement in Utah Last Year. Now Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s Siblings Just Want Relief.
Last summer, activists in Utah chanted Bernardo Palacios-Carbajal’s name alongside George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
May 28, 2021