Afghan boy dancers sexually abused by former warlords
Reuters, November 18, 2007
PUL-E KHUMRI, Afghanistan (Reuters) - They are known as "bacha
bereesh", boys without beards, teenage boys who dress up as girls and dance for
male patrons at parties in northern Afghanistan.
It's an age old practice that has led to some of the boy dancers
being turned into sex slaves by wealthy and powerful patrons, often former
warlords, who dress the boys up as girls, shower them with gifts and keep them as "mistresses".
Afghan police are battling to crackdown on the practice which has angered Islamic clerics who say those involved should be stoned for
sodomy, forbidden under Islamic law.
In a society where the sexes are strictly segregated, it is common
for men to dance for other men at weddings in Afghanistan.
But in northern Afghanistan, former warlords and mujahideen
commanders have taken that a step further with competitions for their dancing boys.
"Every boy tries to be the first. They are dressed in women's
clothes, have bells on their feet and have artificial breasts," said
Mohammad Yawar, a former mujahideen fighter against the Taliban and
resident of the northern town of Pul-e Khumri.
The practice, called "bacha bazi" -- literally "boy
play" -- has a long history in northern Afghanistan, but sometimes it does not stop with
"I very much enjoy hugging a boy. His smell and fragrance
kills me," said Yawar.
The 38-year-old businessman said he recruited a 15-year-old boy three
years ago to help him with his work.
"I have had him for at least three years, since he was only
15. He was looking for a job and I gave him somewhere to stay," said Yawar,
showing the boy's picture.
"I don't have a wife. He is like my wife. I dress him in
women's clothes and have him sleep beside me. I enjoy him and he is my
everything," he said, kissing the photograph.
Mark of prestige
Having the best-looking boy and the best dancer is a mark of
"Everyone tries to have the best, most handsome and
good-looking boy," said a former mujahideen commander, who
declined to be named.
"Sometimes we gather and make our boys dance and whoever wins,
his boy will be the best boy."
Former mujahideen commanders hold such parties in and around Pul-e Khumri about once a week.
"Having a boy has become a custom for us. Whoever wants to
show off, should have a boy," said Enayatullah, a 42-year-old landowner in
"I was married to a woman 20 years ago, she left me because of
my boy," he said. "I was playing with my boy every night and
was away from home, eventually my wife decided to leave me. I am happy
with my decision, because I am used to sleeping and entertaining with
my young boy."
The men say they lavish money and gifts on their boys.
"I was only 14-years-old when a former Uzbek commander forced
me to have sex with him," said Shir Mohammad in Sar-e Pol
province. "Later, I quit my family and became his secretary. I
have been with him for 10 years, I am now grown up, but he still loves
me and I sleep with him."
Ahmad Jawad, aged 17, has been with a wealthy landowner for the past
"I am used to it. I love my lord. I love to dance and act like
a woman and play with my owner," he said.
Asked what he would do when he got older, he said:
"Once I grow up, I will be an owner and I will have my own
But Shir Mohammad, at 24, was already getting too old to be a dancing
"I am grown up now and do not have the beauty of former years.
So, I proposed to marry my lord's daughter and he has agreed to it."
Many local residents have called for a crackdown, but are skeptical
it will work as many of the men are powerful and well-armed former
Jahan Shah, who lives in Pul-e Khumri, said government and security officials should take tough action against un-Islamic and immoral acts.
"If they don't stop this, it will become a custom and hundreds
of other boys will be involved in it," he said.
Police and security officials in northern Afghanistan say they have
been doing their best to arrest the men involved.
"It is sad to state that this practice that includes making
boys dance, sexual abuse and sometimes even selling boys, has been going on for
years," said General Asadollah Amarkhil, the security chief of
"We have taken steps to stop it to the extent that we are
able," he said.
Amarkhil said poverty, widespread in Afghanistan after nearly three decades of war, forced teenage boys into compliance.
"We have taken very strict measures to save the lives of the
boys and punish the men," he said. "We are monitoring to find out
where these men and boys gather, then go there and arrest them."
Those found guilty of abuse would be jailed for at least 15 years,
said Baghlan chief prosecutor Hafizullah Khaliqyar.
"We have 25 cases of such immoral acts. They are being
processed and we are trying our utmost to tackle the problem," he
Islamic scholars recommended harsher punishment.
"Those who do this are the devil," said Mawlawi Mohammad
Sadiq Sadiqyar, a scholar and prayer leader in the main northern city
of Mazar-i-Sharif. "Under Islamic law, those who practice this
should be stoned to death."
But some of the men say they are not interested in women.
"We know it is immoral and u-Islamic, but how can we quit? We
do not like women, we just want boys," said Chaman Gul, aged 35 of