Thursday, March 11, 2010

Why we fight - "boy play" in Afghanistan

By Mark Bannerman for Four Corners

In a story broadcast on Four Corners recently, the practice of bacha bazi or "boy play", as well as other allegations of child abuse, were explored.

Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi has filmed police attending a party where a young boy is the "entertainment". The police shown on the video include one officer from the youth crime squad.

Such parties are illegal under the law in Afghanistan and with good reason. The "dancing boys" are in effect sex slaves. They are lured off the streets by pimps. They are taught to dance and sing, to wear make-up and to dress like girls. Then they are made to perform before large groups of men. All of them are sexually abused.

"Dancing boys" are a lucrative business. Powerful former warlords and businessmen love to watch them and will pay a lot of money to have their own boy for bacha bazi. Some of the boys are traded like swap cards amongst the rich and powerful and if they disobey their "owners" they are killed or brutalised.

The trade in boys is well known to the United Nations. According to Nazir Alimy, who compiled a report on the issue for the UN, there is no doubt who is funding this practice and why the police refuse to stop it.

"According to our research these dancing boys are used by powerful men for sex," Mr Alimy said.

Four Corners followed the criminal activity of two paedophiles who searched for young boys so they can sell them or groom them to be trained as "dancing boys".

In one case the journalist goes in the car with a paedophile named Dastager. As they drive, Dastager explains the type of boy he is looking for. Then in broad daylight the "dancing boy master" stops the car, goes to a shopfront and brings a boy back to his the waiting car.

According to a report prepared for the United Nations there is evidence that the practice of bacha bazi and the sexual abuse of boys is common throughout the north of the country. It confirms that young boys, some of them only 10 years old, are lured into life as a sex slave.

There is also evidence that this type of abuse is spreading throughout Afghanistan.

Mr Alimy says his research shows it is happening in the south and even in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

"It's true they make the boys wear girls' clothes and make them dance in front of many men," he said.

The powerful men he refers to are often former warlords who helped drive the Taliban out of the north. Others who involve themselves in the trade of boys are wealthy businessmen. Under the Taliban, bacha bazi was outlawed. Today it is still a crime but clearly there is no concerted effort being made to stop the practice and the criminal activity that surrounds it.

Unable to find anyone willing to do anything about the abuse of children, journalist Najibullah Quraishi flew to New York to meet Radhika Coomaraswamy, who has been appointed by the UN to raise awareness of the plight of children in war zones.

She explains she is deeply pessimistic about the future of these children and the capacity of officials to stop the trade in young boys.

"When I mentioned the topic it was as if I had dropped a big brick, especially in the circles, official circles," she said.

"It was very clear to me, and someone actually said it to me, these are not things people talk about. So let's first deal with the war and then we'll deal with these other issues."

Four Corners

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