In war-torn Afghanistan, an ancient practice called Bacha Bazi has been revived in which young boys are taught to dance and sold to wealthy men. The translation means to be interested in children. Poor boys are exploited and become sexually abused slaves. It was banned by the Taliban and is still illegal under Afghan law. In a place where women are not allowed to dance in public, boys are made to wear women’s clothing and dance for groups of men. After the shows, the boys are often taken to hotels and subjected to sexual abuse.
Impoverished boys who have no fathers or live on the streets are particularly at risk. With no resources family who often need the eldest son’s financial support, the boys are drawn into the disturbing world of Bacha Bazi. The children, many of whom are no older than nine, are groomed by powerful merchants who lure them with the promise of a better life. Some men make their living roaming the streets, hunting for vulnerable children to recruit. The kids they find are given “jobs” as apprentices and the grooming begins. The practice is purely pedophilic—when the boys mature and grow beards, they are cast out. That life is all they know, and when no longer dancing, many become Bacha Bazi pimps themselves.
Bacha Bazi was thought to be a practice that occurred in the north of Afghanistan, but an internal investigation for UNICEF found evidence of it in the south and even in Kabul. Men in positions of power manipulate the system to prevent persecution. Police officers who run programs meant to protect children have been found attending the parties. Western men have been known to come to Afghanistan and take advantage of the boys. The lives of these children are completely ruined, they face violent backlash if they don’t agree to sexual demands, and they’ll likely be murdered if they escape.