“This Became a Habit for Powerful People”
Nazer Alimi investigated bacha bazi and wrote an internal report for UNICEF that suggested the practice was common in many areas of Afghanistan. He’s director of the UNICEF-funded Youth Information and Contact Center in Mazar-e-Sharif. This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on March 25, 2009 by reporter Najibullah Quraishi.
You mentioned the media, and you said that they can’t broadcast anything with regard to “bacha bazi.” Is it because the warlords don’t allow them, or are there other reasons?
Afghanistan is a democratic country. However, our country has not yet reached the depth of democracy and freedom of speech.
There is self-censorship among the journalists. There is fear, and life is precious for everybody. Everybody wants to stay alive and progress in their lives. When our journalists graduate, they promise to comply with the journalism code of conduct and they commit to [reporting] the pains and sorrows of our people. [But] despite all the promises, they tend to be doing a lot of self-censorship. They get threatened and do not tell anybody who threatens them, so they would rather be careful.
If a journalist were to investigate who is involved in such crimes, and if he was to name any names to reveal the person, even if he has proof, who is going to protect him? Would [President] Hamid Karzai or the home minister protect him? I do not think people in power would be able to protect him.
Would you be able to name anyone? Who do you think these commanders are?
I have the courage to tell you that I cannot mention any names. Mentioning names will expose me to danger and threats. l love my life, too. I can only do as much as I can. However, I have said it to you before that these issues don’t take place in Balkh province alone. It takes place in other provinces as well. But it is possible to get rid of this issue if we choose the right program.
You carried out a survey on this issue. Did you come to a conclusion about how and where bacha bazi came to Afghanistan?
We didn’t investigate how these problems arrived in Afghanistan.
If we look deeply into it, most of our people during the war became helpless, vulnerable and misplaced. Most children lost their parents and became exposed to danger. Armed men who were involved in the war used and abused these children and made them dance, and this became a habit for the powerful people who were in the war. They started enjoying themselves from these indecent acts. They turned this into a regular activity in their areas.
Now, as we are aware, when there is a wedding somewhere, they make the young boys dance, and the local commander also attends. This is against the law, and he shouldn’t be attending such parties as he is the man in power. So I think the real reason behind this is the war in the last three decades.
Would you allow us to edit and broadcast this interview?
Certainly. I hope whatever I have said you broadcast without adding anything, and I hope you translate this exactly the way I have said it, so the world becomes aware of the children’s situation in Afghanistan.
Being concerned about this issue is not for our own personal gain. This is purely because we want to solve this problem. The children are the future of this country. If we pay more attention toward these children rather than the generation who are in power, the future of Afghanistan will be good.
I hope you broadcast this with honesty, and I have full agreement with this.
Originally published April 20, 2010