Bacha bazi

Bacha bāzī (Persian: بچه بازی‎, lit. "boy play";[1] from بچه bacheh, "boy", and بازی bazi "play, game") is a slang term in some parts of Afghanistan for a custom involving child sexual abuse between older men and young adolescent males or boys, who are called dancing boys. The custom is connected to sexual slavery and child prostitution.[2] In the 21st century, Bacha bazi is reportedly practiced in various parts of Afghanistan.[3][4][5][6][7] Force and coercion are common, and security officials state they are unable to end such practices because many of the men involved in bacha bazi-related activities are powerful and well-armed warlords.[8][9][10]

Dancing boy performing in Samarkand, present-day Uzbekistan (c. 1905–1915).

During the Afghan Civil War (1996–2001), bacha bazi carried the death penalty under Taliban law.[11] The practice of dancing boys is illegal under Afghan law, but the laws are seldom enforced against powerful offenders and police have reportedly been complicit in related crimes.[12][13]

A controversy arose after allegations surfaced that U.S. government forces in Afghanistan after the invasion of the country deliberately ignored bacha bazi.[14] The U.S. military responded by claiming the abuse was largely the responsibility of the "local Afghan government".[15]

As of 2020, despite international concern, the practice continues.[16][17]


Bacha bazi is a centuries-old tradition.[16] One of the original factors mobilizing the rise of the Taliban was their opposition to the practice.[5] After the Taliban came to power in 1996, bacha bazi was banned along with homosexuality. The Taliban considered it incompatible with Sharia law.[11] Because this child abuse was falsely linked with homosexuality, both crimes carried the death penalty.[18]

Often, boys are selected because they are poor and vulnerable.[3] Men who have been bacha boys face social stigma and struggle with the psychological effects of their abuse.[16]

Modern examplesEdit

Clover Films and Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi made a documentary film titled The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan about the practice, which was shown in the UK in March 2010[19] and aired in the US the following month.[20] Journalist Nicholas Graham of The Huffington Post lauded the documentary as "both fascinating and horrifying".[21] The film won the 2011 Documentary award in the Amnesty International UK Media Awards.[22] The film was broadcast on Channel 4's More4 service.[citation needed]

The issue has been covered by RAWA, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.[23] The practice of bacha bazi prompted the United States Department of Defense to hire social scientist AnnaMaria Cardinalli to investigate the problem, as ISAF soldiers on patrol often passed older men walking hand-in-hand with young boys. British soldiers found that young Afghan men were trying to "touch and fondle them", which the soldiers did not understand.[6]

In December 2010, a cable made public by WikiLeaks revealed that foreign contractors from DynCorp had spent money on bacha bazi in northern Afghanistan. Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar requested that the U.S. military assume control over DynCorp training centres in response, but the U.S. embassy claimed that this was not "legally possible under the DynCorp contract".[24]

In March 2011, The Documentary series on the BBC World Service addressed the concerns over the increased incidence of dancing boys and how this was at odds with the image which many wish to project about the post-Taliban future.[25]

In December 2012, a teenage victim of sexual exploitation and abuse by a commander of the Afghan Border Police killed eight guards. He made a drugged meal for the guards and then, with the help of two friends, attacked them, after which they fled to neighbouring Pakistan.[26]

In a 2013 documentary by Vice Media titled This Is What Winning Looks Like, British independent film-maker Ben Anderson describes the systematic kidnapping, sexual enslavement and murder of young men and boys by local security forces in the Afghan city of Sangin. The film depicts several scenes of Anderson along with American military personnel describing how difficult it is to work with the Afghan police considering the blatant molestation and rape of local youth. The documentary also contains footage of an American military advisor confronting the then-acting police chief on the abuse after a young boy is shot in the leg after trying to escape a police barracks. When the Marine suggests that the barracks be searched for children, and that any policeman found to be engaged in pedophilia be arrested and jailed, the high-ranking officer insists what occurs between the security forces and the boys is consensual, saying "[the boys] like being there and giving their asses at night". He went on to claim that this practice was historic and necessary, rhetorically asking: "If [my commanders] don't fuck the asses of those boys, what should they fuck? The pussies of their own grandmothers?"[27]

In 2011, an Afghan mother in the Konduz province reported that her 12-year-old son had been chained to a bed and raped for two weeks by an Afghan Local Police (ALP) commander Abdul Rahman. When confronted, Rahman laughed and confessed. He was subsequently severely beaten by two U.S. Special Forces soldiers and thrown off the base.[28] The soldiers were involuntarily separated from the military, but later reinstated after a lengthy legal case.[29] As a direct result of this incident, legislation was created called the "Mandating America's Responsibility to Limit Abuse, Negligence and Depravity", or "Martland Act" named after Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland.[30]

In 2015, The New York Times reported that U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan were instructed by their commanders to ignore child sexual abuse being carried out by Afghan security forces, except "when rape is being used as a weapon of war". American soldiers have been instructed not to intervene—in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records. But the U.S. soldiers have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the U.S. military was arming them against the Taliban and placing them as the police commanders of villages—and doing little when they began abusing children.[14][31]

According to a report published in June 2017 by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US military reported 5753 cases of "gross human rights abuses" by Afghan forces, many of which related to sexual abuse.[32] According to The New York Times, discussing that report, American law required military aid to be cut off to the offending unit, but that never happened. US Special Forces officer, Capt. Dan Quinn, was relieved of his command in Afghanistan after fighting an Afghan militia commander who had been responsible for keeping a boy as a sex slave.[1]

The media coverage of this phenomenon is stable and there were reports about bacha bazi during 2016 and 2017.[33]

In fictionEdit

In the 2003 fictional novel The Kite Runner, by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini, and in the 2007 movie of the same name, the protagonist Amir's half-nephew is forced to become a bacha bazi sexual slave to a high-ranking official of the Taliban government. The same official had, years earlier, raped the boy's father when he was a pre-teen and the official was a teenager, but Amir manages to free the boy and takes him away from Afghanistan to start a new life in the United States.[34][35]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Nordland, Rod (January 23, 2018). "Afghan Pedophiles Get Free Pass From U.S. Military, Report Says". The New York Times. Retrieved January 23, 2018.
  2. ^ "Boys in Afghanistan Sold Into Prostitution, Sexual Slavery", Digital Journal, Nov 20, 2007
  3. ^ a b Qobil, Rustam (September 7, 2010). "The sexually abused dancing boys of Afghanistan". BBC News. Retrieved 9 May 2016. I'm at a wedding party in a remote village in northern Afghanistan.
  4. ^ "Bacha bazi in Northern Afghanistan (Mazar-e-sharif) Shamali culture". Archived from the original on 2014-08-26.
  5. ^ a b Mondloch, Chris (Oct 28, 2013). "Bacha Bazi: An Afghan Tragedy". Foreign Policy Magazine. Retrieved Apr 23, 2015.
  6. ^ a b Brinkley, Joel (29 August 2010). "Afghanistan's dirty little secret". Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  7. ^ Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. "The dancing boys of Afghanistan". the Guardian.
  8. ^ "Transcript". Archived from the original on 2014-12-14.
  9. ^ Roshni Kapur, The Diplomat. "Bacha Bazi: The Tragedy of Afghanistan's Dancing Boys". The Diplomat.
  10. ^ "Afghan boy dancers sexually abused by former warlords". Reuters. 2007-11-18. Retrieved April 30, 2015.
  11. ^ a b Arni Snaevarr. "The dancing boys of Afghanistan". United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC).
  12. ^ Quraishi, Najibullah Uncovering the world of "bacha bazi" at The New York Times April 20, 2010
  13. ^ Bannerman, Mark The Warlord's Tune: Afghanistan's war on children at Australian Broadcasting Corporation February 22, 2010
  14. ^ a b Goldstein, Joseph (2015-09-20). "U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  15. ^ Londoño, Ernesto. "Afghanistan sees rise in 'dancing boys' exploitation". Washington Post. Washington Post. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  16. ^ a b c "Bacha bazi: the scandal of Afghanistan's abused boys". The Week. 29 January 2020. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  17. ^ "Afghanistan must end the practice of bacha bazi, the sexual abuse of boys". European Interest. 25 December 2019. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  18. ^ "Bacha bazi: Afghanistan's darkest secret". Human Rights and discrimination. Retrieved 2019-05-01.
  19. ^ "True Stories: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan" Archived 2010-08-31 at the Wayback Machine, 29 March 2010
  20. ^ "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan", PBS Frontline TV documentary, April 20, 2010.
  21. ^ Graham, Nicholas (April 22, 2010). "'Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan': Bacha Bazi Documentary Exposes Horrific Sexual Abuse Of Young Afghan Boys (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2010.
  22. ^ "Amnesty announces 2011 Media Awards winners". Amnesty International UK (AIUK). May 24, 2011. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved January 10, 2013.
  23. ^ "Some Afghan Men Form Sexual Relationships With Young Boys". RAWA News, August 31, 2010.
  24. ^ Boone, Jon (December 2, 2010). "Foreign contractors hired Afghan 'dancing boys', WikiLeaks cable reveals". The Guardian. London.
  25. ^ "The Documentary: Afghanistan's Dancing Boys". BBC World Service. BBC. March 23, 2011. Retrieved January 14, 2013.
  26. ^ "Betrayed while asleep, Afghan police die at hands of their countrymen". The New York Times, December 27, 2012.
  27. ^ "This Is What Victory Looks Like". Vice, May 6, 2013
  28. ^ Jahner, Kyle (30 September 2015). "'One of the best': Defenders show support for ousted Green Beret". Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  29. ^ Mark, David (28 September 2015). "Green Beret who beat Afghan official over alleged child assault to stay in Army". Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  30. ^ Jahner, Kyle (2 March 2016). "'Martland Act' would empower U.S. troops to block sexual abuse on foreign soil". Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  31. ^ Board, The Editorial (2015-09-21). "Ignoring Sexual Abuse in Afghanistan". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  32. ^ "Child Sexual Assault in Afghanistan:Implementation of the Leahy Laws and Reports of Assault by Afghan Security Forces" (PDF). Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. June 2017.
  33. ^ Palin, Megan (27 February 2017). "Bacha Bazi: Young boys forced to dress as women and dance before being sexually abused by rich men". Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  34. ^ "Bacha Bazi: The Abuse of Afghan Boys". Borgen Magazine. 30 August 2014. Retrieved 18 September 2020.
  35. ^ "The Kite Runner: Plot Overview". SparkNotes. Retrieved 6 July 2019.

External linksEdit