KABUL: AFP has traced three former victims of “bacha bazi”, or the sexual exploitation of boys, whose testimonies lay bare one of Afghanistan’s most egregious human rights violations.
“Bachas” are boy sex slaves, often kept by powerful warlords, commanders, politicians and other members of the elite as a symbol of authority and affluence.
Sometimes dressed as women, they are often sexually exploited. They can also be used as dancers at private parties.
Bacha bazi, or “boy play”, is not widely seen as homosexual behaviour, which is popularly demonised and perceived as prohibited in Islam. Instead it is largely accepted as a cultural practice.
“Women are for child-rearing, boys are for pleasure” is a common saying across many parts of Afghanistan.
The custom, banned under the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, has seen a resurgence in recent years. It is said to be widespread across southern and eastern Afghanistan’s rural Pashtun heartland, and with ethnic Tajiks across the northern countryside.
The lack of contact with women in gender-segregated Afghanistan has contributed to the spread of bacha bazi, rights groups say.
Other factors such as an absence of the rule of law, corruption, limited access to justice, illiteracy, poverty, insecurity, and the existence of armed groups have also helped the practice spread, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) said in a report in 2014.