Afghanistan is where this evil practice of Bacha bazi is a way of life. Afghanistan has long been considered one of the most religious countries in the world: a place where men and women follow Islamic doctrine carefully
But behind the devout exterior, the country is hiding a dark secret – one which the government has tried to sweep under the rug.
Bacha bazi, which translate as ‘boy play’, is on the surface a harmless form of entertainment – young boys dancing for the entertainment of their elders.
In reality, it is often little more than sex slavery, where boys as young as 10 are passed around a group of middle aged men for their own sexual gratification.
Boys like Shukur, who was just 12 when he was stolen away from his family and made to be a ‘bacha bereesh’. It took him five years to escape, and he now uses the dances he learned to make a living.
He is luckier than most.
Shaharyar became a dancer when he was 17, after his father died and he needed to make money. He met his master in a Chai Khana, or tea shop, and was taught dancing. The master is now his agent, and takes a cut of his what he earns performing for parties.
Shukur, 21 in this picture, was kidnapped in Kabul when he was 12 years old and taken to Kunduz where he was kept as a Bacha Bereesh – a dancing boy – for a rich and powerful man. He was 17 when he escaped, and began making a living from his dancing.
Afghanistan’s poverty has been a driving force in the rise of bacha bazi in the last 15 years. It makes it easy for predators to prowl the streets targeting ‘pretty’ young boys, enticing them from their families with promises of work or education.
These promises more often than not come to nothing: instead, the boys are trained as dancers, made to perform to groups of men dressed as girls, bells on their flowing skirts and make up on the faces.
Once the party is over, and the dancing has finished, the true horror of their role is revealed. Then the boys are passed between the men, taken to hotel rooms where they can be sexually abused. ‘The boys don’t earn anything from the parties,’ explained photographer Barat Ali Batoor, who spent months winning the boys’ trust and documenting their lives, ‘But they live as though they are in a relationship with their masters, so their masters keep them, house them and buy them food and things. ‘They have sex with their masters and then at the parties they are abused by different people.’
It is said one of the country’s favourite sayings is women are for children, boys are for pleasure.
The practice, known as ‘bacha bazi’, is ‘shameful’, says Dr Soraya Sobhrang, who led an nation-wide investigation into the practice for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
In any other country, it would be considered paedophilia. In Afghanistan, however, the perpetrators have been protected by the police, scared to upset the powerful warlords and businessmen.
‘A war lord has many – they keep maybe 10 boys, all together,’ Dr Sobhrang told MailOnline.
‘When the boys are beautiful it shows they are powerful, but also the number. You have to spend a lot of money to pay the boys, feed the boys, keep them clothed.
‘It shows your wealth.’
Yet for the boys, more than two fifths of whom are between the age of 13 and 15, being chosen as a bacha bareesh – man without a beard – it is a life sentence, one which will see them cast out of their families and shunned by society. Many turn to drugs.
Bacha bazi is not a new phenomenon in a country famed for keeping its women and men separate. However, it was all but wiped out under the Taliban.
But with the fall of the extremist group, bacha bazi returned. It quickly became so acceptable that even the police would be sat among the dozen or so men cheering the boys on.
The fact homosexuality is forbidden in Islam is swept under the carpet by those who participate, who claim there is a loophole. They are not in love with the boys, and therefore not gay.
Soldiers fighting in Afghanistan after 2001 spoke of their surprise at watching grown men walking down the streets of the conservative country, hand in hand with a young boy.
But even the coalition forces looked the other way.
Lance Corporal Geoffrey Buckley Jr told his father he was forced to listen to the screams of young boys being raped at night.
But last September, three years after Lance Cprl Buckley was shot to death on his base, Gregory Buckley Sr told the New York Times: ‘My son said that his officers told him to look the other way because it’s their culture.’
Lance Cprl Buckley wasn’t the only person to raise the alarm: Unicef compiled its own report in 2008, and an award-winning documentary followed.
Yet nothing changed for years.
When the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission’s report was released last year, it found the practice was still just as widespread as it had always been.
But the shame is so great, it is hard to put an exact figure on how many boys have been – or are still being – kept by their ‘bacha baz’, their master. It is so covert, barely any pictures exist of the young boys performing their dances.
‘Nobody knows about how many boys there are – it is very sensitive, very underground,’ said Dr Sobhrang.
‘Maybe 100, maybe 500, maybe 1,000… It was one of the challenges when we visited some boys. When I asked them, they said they were owners, they didn’t want to show they were the victims.
‘Nobody admitted they were bacha bereesh. They don’t want to talk about it.
‘Some of these boys were 18 or 19. If they want to marry, nobody can know. No family wants to give their daughter to these people.’
The few boys the inquiry did managed to speak to revealed they dreamed of running away, despite the threats of violence and even murder, but had nowhere to turn.
‘How can I run away from this place,’ they told the report writers. ‘Where can I go? I am not accepted by society or by my family.’
The boys are trapped in their world – and are drawn into becoming the predators themselves by the time they are considered too old to be a bacha bereesh anymore.
Speaking to Reuters in 2007, Ahmad, then 17, revealed: ‘I love my lord. I love to dance and act like a woman and play with my owner.
‘Once I grow up, I will be an owner and I will have my own boys.’
‘It is a a psychological trauma,’ said Dr Sobhrang. ‘They think they can continue like a bacha baz.
‘Now he is 20 years old, he can also take other boys for this process. And so it goes from one generation to another generation.’
But there is hope: the report has struck a chord at the highest levels. The ministries of justice and religion have both sat up and listened.
For the first time, a law which directly deals directly with bacha bazi has begun to be put in place. Police are finally starting to make arrests.
And Dr Sobhrang dreams of setting up a home, where the boys will finally be safe.
Culled from Mail Online