Bil Browning

Afghanistan: The World of Bacha Bazi

Filed By Bil Browning | April 27, 2010 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Afghanistan, Bacha Bazi, boy play, Boy Scouts of America, Catholic church, child exploitation

Did you get a chance to watch PBS's Frontline expose, "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan: Inside the World of Bacha Bazi" when it aired last week? It took me a few days to get around to viewing it and it's well worth the hour.

In Afghanistan today, in the midst of war and endemic poverty, an ancient tradition--banned when the Taliban were in power--has re-emerged across the country. It's called Bacha Bazi, translated literally as "boy play." Hundreds of boys, some as young as eleven, street orphans or boys bought from poor families by former warlords and powerful businessmen, are dressed in woman's clothes, taught to sing and dance for the entertainment of male audiences, and then sold to the highest bidder or traded among the men for sex. With remarkable access inside a Bacha Bazi ring operating in Northern Afghanistan, Najibullah Quraishi, an Afghan journalist, investigates this practice, still illegal under Afghan law, talking with the boys, their families, and their masters, exposing the sexual abuse and even murders of the boys, and documenting how Afghan authorities responsible for stopping these crimes are sometimes themselves complicit in the practice.

While the world has focused on both the Boy Scout of America and the Catholic Church's cover ups of sexual abuse by supposedly moral leaders, what does it say that we've almost totally ignored the rape and enslavement of these boys? And what does it mean that 99% of the perpetrators don't consider themselves "gay" and the same percentage of the boys are forced into a "transgender" role?

The entire episode is after the jump.

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Regan DuCasse | April 27, 2010 4:12 PM

I have to reiterate here that same sex sexual abuse, does not at all qualify the abusers as homosexual.

I was struck by one of Andrew Sullivan's readers that observed that priests that abuse boys, tended to use it more as sport, whereas with female victims, the tenor of the abuse was about control.
This activity seems to fall into that category of sport.
These are boys without fathers or any family who would protect them. They are essentially weakened by that, and their station in life as children.

Alpha males, who are heterosexual WILL prey on who they perceive as weak, and who are in a socio/politically weak position to fight them or have advocates.
They might perceive a boy as gay, and take an opportunity to humiliate and control the boy through sexual abuse.
This is true of ALL sexual predators: control and dominance.

So, for the discussion to turn towards homosexuality as the driving factor would be mistaken and it would further stigmatize homosexuality, rather than getting at the heart of the nature of people who are compelled to sexually control and dominate, period.

In cultures where females are rendered invisible, because of all covering clothing and lack of free activity outside of the home, males in fundamentalist Muslim cultures have little opportunity to integrate with females, and segregation is more profound and discouraged.
Males therefore, have an unrealistic representation and understanding of females.
Who, as we know, are threatened just by access or becoming educated.

This treatment of young children, is so primal, savage and denotes a very uncivilized and dangerous mentality and culture.

But this goes directly towards the Catholic hierarchy and it's traditional treatment of gays and lesbians and the gender variant...and children in general.

The power structure, and those in dominant socio/political positions are corrupted by it, and use the 'least of us' in servitude, while at the same time, maintaining Church power at their expense. Hence, abuse being so widespread and hidden.

Alpha males, since heterosexuals are the majority, the law of averages regarding this situation is about heterosexuality and the mindset that requires all other norms be on the receiving end of abuse, and emotional control.

I haven't watched this video. It's just so telling that in our own culture, not much is better.

A. J. Lopp | April 27, 2010 6:19 PM
I have to reiterate here that same sex sexual abuse, does not at all qualify the abusers as homosexual ... priests that abuse boys, tended to use it more as sport, whereas with female victims, the tenor of the abuse was about control. ... This activity seems to fall into that category of sport ... Alpha males, who are heterosexual WILL prey on who they perceive as weak, and who are in a socio/politically weak position to fight them or have advocates.

I very much disagree.

Child sexual abuse is child sexual abuse regardless of whether it is motivated by "control" or "sport", and the term homosexuality is a very broad scientific category that refers to sexual activity or sexual attraction between members of the same sex for any reason. It is obvious ridiculousness for the LGBT community to claim that all homosexuality is socially "good" just as it is obvious that not all heterosexuality is "good".

Bacha bazi is perpetuated for multiple reasons: control, male social prestige (watch the episode to pick up on this), sexual desire --- and "sport" if that's what one wishes to call it. It is not valid to ascribe this complex social phenomenon to just one motivating force or category.

Moreover, asserting that all "alpha males" are invariably heterosexual is also ridiculous --- history shows countless counter-examples.

Regan DuCasse | April 27, 2010 7:30 PM

I reread my post, and I realized that it was a broad statement.
However, I did want to be clear, and perhaps you'd agree, that same sex sexual assault is construed as a strictly homosexual issue, when it isn't.

Remember that the Vatican's initial response to priest abuse, was to ban gay men from the priesthood. Same for the ban in the BSA.

The ban on marriage equality has impetus in the subtext that ONLY gay couples threaten children.
Especially boys.
As long as heterosexuals have the socio/political power in media, religion, and other powerful arenas, it's going to be asserted over and over again, that it's homosexuals who are the most threatening.

And film like this, will validate that misplaced prejudice.
Your post is appreciated.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | April 27, 2010 6:00 PM

Some of the problems of forced child prostitution in Afghanistan are very much like those in another cult ridden culture.


The bigots who run our country permit and even encourage christer, muslim and judaic parents to toss their LGBT children out on the streets for being gay. Under aged, jobless, homeless and uneducated, many turn to prostitution and substance abuse and end up on a coroner's slab.

American bigots victimize GLBT children by passing laws like Clinton's DADT and DOMA or Bushes state DOMAs that denigrate us and by allowing christian thugs to set up ex-gay torture camps and fill them with GLBT or questioning kids. And by willfully refusing to prosecute and persecute priests, rabbis, pastors, imams and ministers who rape children.

Religion, not nationality, is the enemy.

Some cultures in the region value the personal and sexual interaction of younger (post-pubescent)and older men and that is very different from the same relations between boys and older men.

The sudden spike of anti-GLBT and anti-female violence from Palestine to Pakistan is directly related to the US invasions, occupations and wars in the region.

Right wing islamist movements from HAMAS to the killer ayatollahs of Iran and the Saudi supported Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan try to excuse their violence against GLBT folks by identifying our sexuality as "Western".

In Afghanistan and Iran rightwing muslim governments carried out a murder campaign against GLBT folks and same sex couples, killing them with great cruelty. In Iran the death toll probably numbers in the thousands.

In Iraq, society as a whole has been thoroughly degraded and disrupted by the murder of over a million people during the American invasion and occupation. Jihadist shiite militia and sunni police, both armed and trained by the US, are believed to have kidnapped, tortured and murdered large numbers of GLBT folks in the last couple of years. In spite of State Department denials of this systematic murder campaign Amnesty International has begun documenting the pogrom in Iraq.

The best thing we can do for our brothers and sisters in the region it to join with the antiwar movement in demanding the total, immediate and permanent withdrawal of US and satellite troops from the region. We should leave it to our brothers and sisters, to women, trade unions and students to solve the problems posed by bankrupt reactionary islamists and quisling collaborators like Karzi and Talabani.

The recent events in Iran and the role of Iraqi oil unions show that they're willing to do just that.

Bil- thanks for posting the link- I had wanted to watch this- but had forgotten to TIVO it- didn't know frontline was online these days (yay PBS).

The things that struck me in the film was the huge impact that the absolute subjugation and separation of women in the Afghani culture and how it impacts on the phenomenon. At one point the Director asks one of the fathers who has given away his son, what his mother thinks and he says something like, it does not matter what she thinks.

Of course all the women you see in the film are shrouded in their burqas- hidden like shadows, barely speaking, barely there.

In a culture which forbids contact with women to the extreme and views women as less than- it seems like "boy play" as they call it is the only alternative.

Of course this reminded me of one portion of our culture that is going through a similar battle- the catholic church- when you discard women, and expect peoples' sexuality to just disappear, sexuality comes out in really bad ways.

I kept looking at the faces of the boys- saying, wow he looks gay / what will come of him. But this on the ugly backdrop of life in Afghanistan where your choices are all terrible- war, begging, fundamentalist religion, bacha bazi- I sometimes thought bacha bazi was the least terrible choice.

But then that hits it on the head- the boys are given no choice, and are not to the point where they could even understand what they are choosing.

The whole thing left me depressed, and more appreciative of the rights I have here in the US.

Thanks for sending the link Bil....

90% of all sexual abuse is inflicted on girls by hetero men. Why, then, are nearly all of the news stories about child sexual abuse focused on men abusing boys? Because we live in a bigoted and sensationalist society.