Afghanistan to Crack Down on Bacha Bazi Sex Abuse of Boys as a Heinous Crime but..
Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Afghanistan is set to criminalize the sexual exploitation of boys known as bacha Bazi, as a heinous crime. Many rights organizations welcome the banning of the child sex abuse. However, the new penal code was mainly considered due to security concerns. Moreover, the penal code does not address the strict segregation of males and females and outdated prostitution laws that led to the resurgence of the practice.
Political debates aimed at cracking down on the semi-institutionalized “traditional” sexual abuse of minor and adolescent boys started in 2016, and only after reports that Taliban groups used the practice to gather intelligence, infiltrate, and in some cases blackmail. Some bacha Bazi or “apparent” bacha Bazi were among others used to mount suicide bombings, especially in Afghanistan’s southern provinces.
The mostly minor and adolescent boys are sometimes dressed up like girls. The age of bacha Bazi generally ranges from 5 to 18 years although there are some older “stars” among them who at times also double as pimps.
Ordering one or several bacha Bazi for social gatherings and “bidding” for a certain amount of time with the boy, mostly for sexual entertainment, is especially prevalent among the rich, politicians, warlords and other “elites” within the country’s oligarchical structures. Keeping a number of bacha if often perceived as a symbol of affluence, status and authority.
Being “entertained” by bacha Bazi isn’t widely perceived as homosexual behavior which is scorned in Islam and outlawed in fundamentalist Islamic societies. The use of bacha Bazi for entertainment, including the sexual exploitation of under aged boys was widespread in Central Asia but largely disappeared from urban areas during the Victorian era and under the colonialist influence of powers like the United Kingdom and Russia. It is still practiced in urban areas in the region, especially among wealthy elites, but it is most prevalent in rural districts.
The bacha Bazi tradition is today officially viewed as sexual exploitation and child sex abuse – ironically – this is culturally perceived as less criminal than homosexuality or the sexual abuse of under aged girls. The general cultural consensus at the root of the bacha Bazi tradition is that “boys are for entertainment and girls are for having and rearing children”. The practice often involves what today is perceived as slavery. That is, boys are sold to and by “senior” retired “boys” who function as pimps, lease out boys to elites, or sell them off to new, often wealthy “owners”.
The “tradition” was banned from 1996 to 2001 under the rule of the Taliban but it has seen a resurgence since the overthrow of the Taliban regime. Many argue that the Taliban’s attempt to end the exploitation of boys and the opium trade controlled by powerful warlords contributed to the rise and widespread acceptance of the Taliban during the 1970 – 90s as “the lesser of two evils”.
It can thus hardly be surprising that the Taliban would take advantage of “the perceived weakness and immorality” of its enemies by using apparent bacha Bazi for suicide bombings and actual bacha Bazi for intelligence gathering, infiltration, and in some cases blackmail. Although, reports that the resurgence is due to the overthrow of the Taliban, or reports to the effect that the Taliban now is responsible for the resurgence need to be read with awareness about the fact that statistics are used for propaganda purposes by all of the conflicting parties.
Strict separation of boys and girls, males and females in Afghan society, prohibition of pre-marital sex and homosexuality are indeed all contributing factors to keeping the tradition alive. Especially considering the fact that traditional culture rejects the notion that the baza Bazi is child sex abuse or comparable to homosexuality is noteworthy within the context of Islam and Sharia.
The Constitution of Afghanistan stipulates that it is an Islamic Republic which implies that Sharia law and related legal practices such as “family courts” can either be applied or enforced. This could for example happen in lieu of, or in addition to charges being brought under the penal code. Sharia law based punishment is more likely to occur in isolated, rural communities where private citizens and vigilant groups seek to punish anyone who does not follow strict Islamic mores. The appearance of the Taliban’s evil twin-sister, the Islamic State, in Afghanistan has further aggravated the situation.
In cities persons convicted of homosexuality are generally sentenced to prison. Article 41 of the Marriage Law stipulates that where the law is silent on a particular issue, it shall be decided based on the principles of Islamic law. In rural areas homosexuals will often face severe punishment, execution, or “honor killings”. Prostitution is punishable with 5 to 15 years in prison. In rural areas prostitution will also often result in harsher punishments. Pre-marital sex can be punished under principles of Sharia law. That is, couples who are caught can face everything from being publicly whipped or flokked to “honor killings” and executions.
Rights organizations in Afghanistan and international rights organizations including Afghanistan’s AIHRC welcome that the government tries to put an end to the bacha Bazi “tradition” of child sex abuse – even though the government may have been inspired by all the wrong reasons, such as security, counter-espionage and counter-insurgency considerations rather than human rights concerns. A report published by the AIHRC outlines the psychological outcome of the sexual abuse of boys, stating:
“The victims of bacha Bazi suffer from serious psychological trauma as they often get raped. … Such victims suffer from stress and a sort of distrust, hopelessness and pessimistic feeling. Bacha Bazi results in fear among the children and a feeling of revenge and hostility develop in their mind.”
However positive a crackdown on the sexual abuse of boys may be, one cannot ignore that the Constitution of Afghanistan stipulates that the country is an Islamic Republic, which means that Sharia law can be applied, the fact that the strict segregation of boys and girls, the prohibition of pre-marital sex, homosexuality and prostitution contributed to the resurgence of the bacha Bazi “tradition” of semi-institutionalized, morally and “socially sanitized” child sex abuse.
CH/L – nsnbc 23.02.2017