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Home Opinions 'Bacha Bazi': The rampant sexual exploitation of minor boys in Afghanistan and Pakistan

‘Bacha Bazi’: The rampant sexual exploitation of minor boys in Afghanistan and Pakistan

A practice that was said to have slowed down was revived when Afghan warlords started to purchase and own one or more boys to display power and wealth. The boys are either kidnapped or purchased from their families, often made to dress as females and wear makeup and made to dance at private parties and weddings.

Sometimes the darkest place on earth can be one’s own soul.

In 2019, a Pakistani news website Dawn had narrated the story of Kaleem, a 13-year old who was left perplexed on seeing the joy of men while receiving him when he arrived at a colony housing coal-miners to work as a cook. Little did he know that the happiness was because he was now available to offer sexual pleasures to the workers. Farhad (who does not want to be identified by his real name), as reported by Reuters, leads a life as a father by the day and a sex-worker by the night.

While stories like these diminish our faith in humanity, Bacha Bazi which essentially means “boy play”, a centuries-old tradition has begun to crawl back in parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Towns and cities of Afghanistan and Pakistan are infested with the practice of having a ‘chottu’ or a side-kick, essentially boys from the age of 7 to 14 years for sexual pleasures. What shocks the global audience is the justification of indulging in sex with a minor of the same gender even though Islam explicitly prohibits homosexuality.

The practise of Bacha Bazi takes this cruelty a step further where young boys also known as Bacha Bareesh (beardless boys) are made to sell their bodies, indulge in erotic dance and dress as females. Powerful men purchase young boys to show their prowess, get them to dance in all-men parties and pass around for sexual gratification. When the boys reach their late teens or start to grow beards, they are released to live a regular life. However, the trauma caused makes it impossible for the boys to then integrate with society.

A practice that was said to have slowed down was revived when Afghan warlords started to purchase and own one or more boys to display power and wealth. The boys are either kidnapped or purchased from their families, often made to dress as females and wear makeup and made to dance at private parties and weddings. These young boys are owned by single or married men, who keep them for sexual pleasures. As per a report in The Independent, Afghanistan’s Pashtun culture does not see Bacha Bazi as an un-Islamic or homosexual act since the men do not love the boy, but simply keep them for the sexual act. It is justified by stating that the practice is far more ethical than “defiling a woman”. 

Rehearsal still from a musical performed in New York on Bacha Bazi, image via BBC

The debate on Bacha Bazi was reignited with the discovery of a Facebook page featuring more than 100 videos of young boys being abused. This then led to the unearthing of a paedophile scandal that involved around 500 young boys in Afghanistan. The Facebook page was exposed by a civil society organization, however, the activists involved were detained by the National Directorate of Security; and released only after being compelled to deny their findings. They then fled the country fearing for life.

Another shocking video released by ‘Real Stories‘, a YouTube channel featured how rampant the practice of keeping young boys for sexual pleasure is in the major cities of Pakistan. The video features several real life characters who agree on camera to having raped young boys regularly.

Bacha Bazi now rampant in Pakistan

Major cities of Pakistan like Peshawar have makeshift hostels on bus stands with ‘charpai’ for drivers to rest at night. These hostels are not just used as pit stops but a place to indulge in sex. The owner of one such hostel admits to luring 7 to 10-year-old boys on the pretext of providing food and shelter, but instead offer them to the bus/ truck drivers for an extra Rs. 50 or 100. A young 8-year old boy confessed how he was approached multiple times by grown-up men to indulge in sexual pleasures on some rooftop in exchange for a soft drink.

The horror does not end there. As per the video, in a survey conducted, 95% truck drivers admitted to have raped young boys regularly. The boys are kept as cleaners by the day and (male) concubines by night. A driver interviewed encourages this practice saying ‘women cannot be taken out of homes so what to do when you are out on the streets for days. Boys can be taken anywhere and everywhere.’ On being asked if it is allowed in Islam, he says no but exclaims, ‘what to do when the sexual needs are strong.’

These boys who are kept as ‘cleaners’ live in extreme poverty. After going hungry for days, most agree to sell their bodies for some food and money. The ones who resist are picked up forcefully and fall victim to gang rape. They are then drugged and made addicts who choose to offer their bodies in return for monies to buy drugs. Even the cinemas function as brothels where boys are raped and sexually abused while watching blue films, the video narrated.

The video ends with Imran Khan, the current Prime Minister of Pakistan, stating that poverty and sexual abuse are the most sad and shameful aspect of society and not being able to do anything about it is worse. Claiming that their government (which was then just 7 months old) will make stringent laws against it, the ground reality is far from the rosy statements given.

As per a report (based on tracking of 84 publications which reported sexual abuse cases) by Sahil Organization, age-wise information revealed that children in the age group 6-15 years were most susceptible to abuse and there were more boys as victims than girls.

In a relatively old report by Save The Children Afghanistan, it was revealed that 91% of Afghan children were abused in some way on the other.

Unfortunately, there has not been an attempt to rectify these grave human rights violations because even discussing this topic is taboo in both countries, let alone finding a solution and creating laws. Especially when multiple reports cite the police, lawmakers and religious institutions, all those who are meant to protect the citizens, as perpetrators.

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