Tuesday, July 08, 2008

UN to Afghanistan: "bacha bazi" or "boy play" must end

Taliban Glamour Shots

Envoy denounces abuse of Afghan boys

AFGHANISTAN must do more to end an age-old practice of young boys being kept as sex slaves by wealthy and powerful patrons, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict said today.

Radhika Coomaraswamy said the practice, called "bacha bazi" - literally "boy play" - was a taboo subject, but she had heard reports of warlords and military commanders keeping young boys and "exploiting them in terrible ways. What I found was nobody talks about it; everyone says 'Well, you know, it's been there for 1000 years so why do we want to raise this now?'" she said at UN headquarters, reporting on a visit to Afghanistan last week.

"That seems to be the general attitude among everyone, but somebody has to raise it and it has to be dealt with."

Known as "bacha bereesh", boys without beards, the victims of such abuse are teenage boys who dress up as girls and dance for male patrons at parties in northern Afghanistan.

Read more about The dancing boys of the North

“When I was young, I had a bacha bereesh who was the best in the region,” recalled Allah Daad, 44. “He danced like a flying pigeon.... Nobody could take his place afterwards. I kept him for three years, then left him when he matured.”

Allah Daad has kept many boys over the years, and says he enjoys his “hobby”. “I am married, but I prefer boys to women,” he said. “You can’t take women with you to parties in this region, and you can’t make them dance. These boys are our [mark of] prestige.”

Large halls known as “qush-khana” provide the venues for bacha baazi parties where the boys’ “owners” or “kaatah” invite their friends to watch them dancing. Late in the night, when the dancing is over, the boys are often shared with close friends, for sexual abuse.

Several different types of dances are popular, he explained, each with its own beat. If the boy refuses to dance or performs badly, his master beats him with a long stick.

“We have to do that,” said Allah Daad. “We spend money on these boys, so they have to dance.”