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Published On: Fri, Nov 17th, 2017

US troops were told child sex abuse was culturally acceptable in Afghanistan

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : A report by the Pentagon Inspector General reveals that U.S. troops deploying to Afghanistan were taught for years that child sex abuse is a culturally accepted practice and were provided no guidance that it constituted a violation of the law and human rights until late 2015. The Afghan government, for its part, responded only in 2017 with an initiative to outlaw the sexual abuse of under aged, so-called Bacha Bazi boys.

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The new report released by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense entitled “Implementation of the DoD Lehay Law Regarding Allegations of Child Sex Abuse by Members of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces” was published on November 16, 2017. The report reveals that troops were not explicitly discouraged from reporting cases of child sex abuse, but the issue was not openly discussed until several media outlets reported that troops were indeed encouraged to ignore local Afghan officials abusing underage boys.

Interviews with troops from the report substantiate the claim that military officials did not care much about stopping child sex abuse. The report noted “In some cases, the interviewees explained that they, or someone whom they knew, were told that nothing could be done about child sexual abuse because of Afghanistan’s status as a sovereign nation, that it was not a priority for the command, or that it was best to ignore the situation and to let the local police handle it.”

The cultural education U.S, Marines had to undergo stated among others that pedophilia is an issue in Afghanistan, but added that readers should “control and overcome any frustration caused by cultural differences that they may experience during their deployments.” Moreover, the presentation advised sailors that they should ask their chains of command what to do in specific circumstances. Marine Corps cultural training instructed Marines that they “need to understand the culture, accept it without making judgments, and figure out how to work with it or around it to accomplish your mission.”

The training also said that sometimes Afghan men joke about pedophilia, but Marines should just ignore it and “move on.” Marines – many if not most of them young men who have little to no experience with other cultures that the culture in the United States or who even lack sophistication with regard to U.S. culture other than pop-culture – were not given any guidance about what they should do if they ever encounter instances of pedophilia.

The report reveals that effectively, the military only started to care about the problem of pedophilia and abuse after media outlets started reporting on the issue. “We determined that the DoD did not conduct training for personnel on identifying, responding to, or reporting instances of child sexual abuse involving ANDSF personnel before 2015,” the report noted.  One interviewee said after he reported an Afghan commander who abused little boys to his chain of command, he was told: “It was out of our control” and “There’s nothing we can do about it” and “It’s their country.” “Soldiers [were] told to ignore it and drive on,” another interviewee stated.

Blaming the U.S. Military will not end the cultural acceptance of sexual abuse of underage boys.

The report is realistic in its assessment of the prevalence of child sex abuse in Afghan culture.  It was only in 2017 that the Afghan government in Kabul took somewhat credible steps to end the cultural acceptance and to criminalize the sexual abuse of minor, so-called Bacha Bazi boys. The U.S. military’s assessment that U.S. troops’ interfering into this practice rather than turning a blind eye could be damaging for cooperation with Afghan security forces – not to mention Afghan elites and politicians – was correct. The de-facto policy of non-interference would also be consistent with a U.S. military that focuses on the mission instead risking that interference into the widespread sexual abuse of underage boys could be construed as cultural imperialism.

Only in February 2017 Afghanistan to decided to crack Down on Bacha Bazi sex abuse of boys as a heinous crime but..

While some groups attempt to sensationalize the DoD report and to blame the U.S. military, it is important to note that it was only in February 2017 that the Afghan government took tangible – and some say half-hearted  steps to outlaw the sexual abuse of underage boys.

Sustained political debates aimed at cracking down on the semi-institutionalized “traditional” sexual abuse of minor and adolescent boys started only 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 fact that it was during the Victorian – British and Russian colonialist – era that the practice was scorned underpins the fact that an “interference by a foreign military” could easily be perceived as “cultural imperialism” and create a cohort of problems.

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 Bacha 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 – 17.11.2017

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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  1. Razi ashraf says:

    Come to think of it Taliban is genuine when it comes to bringing social law and order despite their extreme strictness in religious practices. They are more demonised than what they are in reality. It’s the people who wish to follow these uncouth immoral practices apart from other crimes like kidnapping,rape etc.

  2. US-Troops haben keine Ahnung, so wie die Franzosen (und viele Andere) keine Ahnung hatten, es ist bitter, in so einer Welt aufzuwachsen, missbraucht und benutzt zu werden. Aber so ist es wohl. Buchtipp für alle: Eduardo Galeano

  3. cici says:

    telling u.s. troops to look away from the abuse would give great freedom to human trafficking movements….

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