The Horror of Bacha Bazi

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

(by Vittoria Paterno)

"All grown-ups were once children... but only few of them remember it." Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The bacha bazi have never been children, and not only cannot they have memories about it, but not even the perception!

In Afghanistan, in fact, in what has become an actual business, children have a price. The bacha bazi, in persian “playing, hanging out together”, can be identified as a kind of contemporary sexual slavery of children which endangers the lives of vulnerable youngsters. Leaving them with few or no abilities to have a significant life.

1. History and Meaning

The roots of bacha bazi are traced back to the ancient cultures of Central Asia. Nonetheless, the practice appeared in its modern form in the 19th century.

It generally involves rich Afghans, often pashtun,, who purchase children and youngsters for sexual exploitation or entertainment.

Women, in fact, are forbidden to work as dancers or entertainers in many areas of Afghanistan, and hence they (children, youngsters) are used in their place.

These children, known as bacha bareesh or “kids without beard”, are aged 7 to 18 and they usually come from really poor contexts. Their parents are persuaded to give up their children in exchange for money, food or land, with the promise that they will receive education and jobs. Others instead are just kidnapped without any possibility of choice.

Apparently the youngsters work as dancers at private parties, but in reality many of them are forced to have sexual intercourses with their masters. The kids that refuse to do that are often raped without any chance of denouncing the fact, because the law would not protect them and they would even risk other violence or death. It’s happened in fact, that some of them were sentenced to death for homosexuality, which is severely punished in Afghanistan and especially in rural areas where the village chief have absolute power. The children are also generally prived of any type of education, hence eliminating for them any chance to have a different future. In the end, dancing is the only skill that most of these youngsters will have for the rest of their life. This increases their chances of facing physical and sexual violence, receiving homoerotic attentions and public shame.

The sexual violence exposes the kids to several traumas that represent an obstacle to their growth, and to their opportunities and possibilities of having a normal life. Their parents’ despair for losing a child to sexual slavery is worsened by the thought of their children becoming addicted to opiate they are given in order to subjugate them.

A documentary made by PBS Frontline, “The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”