Bacha bazi

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Dancing boy performing in what is now Uzbekistan (ca. 1905–1915).

Bacha bāzī (Persian: بچه بازی‎‎, literally "playing with boys"; from بچه bacha, "child", and بازی bāzī, "game") is a slang term in Afghanistan for a wide variety of activities that involve pedophilia. The perpetrator is commonly called Bacha Baz (meaning "pedophile" in Persian). It may include to some extent child pornography, sexual slavery and child prostitution in which prepubescent and adolescent boys are sold to wealthy or powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities.[1] Bacha bazi has existed throughout history,[2] and is currently reported in various parts of Afghanistan.[3][4][5][6][7] Force and coercion are a common component of this abuse, and security officials state they are unable to end it because many of the men involved in bacha bazi-related activities are powerful and well-armed warlords including former Northern Alliance commanders.[8][9][10]

During the Taliban's rule (1994-2001), bacha bazi carried the death penalty.[11][12] The practice of dancing boys is illegal under Afghan law, being "against both sharia law and the civil code",[13] but the laws are seldom enforced against powerful offenders and police have been reportedly complicit in related crimes.[14][15]

Allegations have surfaced that US forces in Afghanistan after the Invasion of Afghanistan intentionally ignored Bacha Bazi, also called "boy play". The military denied this, but claimed that it was largely the responsibility of the local Afghan government.[16]


Bacha bazi is a form of pederasty which has been prevalent in Central Asia since antiquity. It waned in the big cities after World War I, for reasons that dance historian Anthony Shay describes as "Victorian era prudery and [the] severe disapproval of colonial powers such as the Russians, British, and French, and the post-colonial elites who had absorbed those Western colonial values."[17]

Portrait of Dancing bacha (child). Painting by Vasily Vereshchagin

A number of Western travellers through Central Asia have reported on the phenomenon of the bacchá. Visiting Turkestan in 1872 to 1873, Eugene Schuyler observed that, "here boys and youths specially trained take the place of the dancing-girls of other countries. The moral tone of the society of Central Asia is scarcely improved by the change". His opinion was that the dances "were by no means indecent, though they were often very lascivious." At this date there were already signs of official disapproval of the practice. Wrote Schuyler:

These "batchas", or dancing-boys, are a recognised institution throughout the whole of the settled portions of Central Asia, though they are most in vogue in Bokhara and the neighbouring Samarkand. In the khanate of Khokand public dances have for some years been forbidden - the formerly licentious Khan having of late put on a semblance of morality and severity.... In Tashkent batchas flourished until 1872, when a severe epidemic of cholera influenced the Mullahs to declare that dancing was against the precepts of the Koran, and at the request of the leaders of the native population, the Russian authorities forbade public dances during that summer.

Schuyler remarked that the ban had barely lasted a year, so enthusiastic were the Sarts for a bazem "dance". He further describes the respect and affection the dancers often received:

These batchas are as much respected as the greatest singers and artistes are with us. Every movement they make is followed and applauded, and I have never seen such breathless interest as they excite, for the whole crowd seems to devour them with their eyes, while their hands beat time to every step. If a batcha condescends to offer a man a bowl of tea, the recipient rises to take it with a profound obeisance, and returns the empty bowl in the same way, addressing him only as Taxir, 'your Majesty', or Kulluk 'I am your slave'. Even when a batcha passes through the bazaar all who know him rise to salute him with hands upon their hearts, and the exclamation of Kulluk! and should he deign to stop and rest in any shop, it is thought a great honour.

He also reports that a rich patron would often help establish a favourite dancer in business after he had grown too old to carry on his profession.[18]

Count Konstantin Konstantinovich Pahlen, during his travels through the area in 1908 and 1909, described such dances, and commissioned photographs of the dancers:[19][20]

Cushions and rugs were fetched, on which we gratefully reclined, great carpets were spread over the court, the natives puffed at their narghiles, politely offering them to us, and the famous Khivan bachehs made their entrance. Backstage, an orchestra mainly composed of twin flutes, kettle drums, and half a dozen man-sized silver trumpets took up its stand. Opposite us a door left slightly ajar led to the harem quarters. We caught a glimpse of flashing eyes as the inmates thronged to the door to have a good look at us and watch the performance.

The orchestra started up with a curious, plaintive melody, the rhythm being taken up and stressed by the kettle drums, and four bachehs took up their positions on the carpet.

The bachehs are young men specially trained to perform a particular set of dances. Barefoot, and dressed like women in long, brightly coloured silk smocks reaching below their knees and narrow trousers fastened tightly round their ankles, their arms and hands sparkle with rings and bracelets. They wear their hair long, reaching below the shoulders, though the front part of the head is clean shaven. The nails of the hands and feet are painted red, the eyebrows are jet black and meet over the bridge of the nose. The dances consist of sensuous contortions of the body and a rhythmical pacing to and fro, with the hands and arms raised in a trembling movement. As the ballet proceeded the number of dancers increased, the circle grew in size, the music waxed shriller and shriller and the eyes of the native onlookers shone with admiration, while the bachehs intoned a piercing melody in time with the ever-growing tempo of the music. The Heir explained that they were chanting of love and the beauty of women. Swifter and swifter moved the dancers till they finally sank to the floor, seemingly exhausted and enchanted by love. They were followed by others, but the general theme was usually the same.[21]

In 1909, two bacchá performed among the entertainers at the Central Asian Agricultural, Industrial and Scientific Exposition in Tashkent. Noting the public's constant interest in and laughter at the performance, several locally based researchers recorded the lyrics of the songs performed by the two boys (16-year-old Hadji-bacchá and 10-year-old Sayid-bacchá, both from the then Margilan uyezd). The songs were then published in the original "Sart language" (Uzbek) with a Russian translation.[22]

Under the Taliban, bacha bazi was declared homosexual in nature, and therefore banned. The Taliban's opposition to bacha bazi was that they considered it incompatible with Sharia Law, and outlawed the practice after coming to power in 1996.[11] Sexual relations with adolescents were considered sodomy with the charge carrying the death penalty.[12]

Media coverage[edit]

Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi made a documentary film titled The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan about the practice, which was shown in the UK in March 2010[23] and aired in the U.S. the following month.[24] Journalist Nicholas Graham of The Huffington Post lauded the documentary as "both fascinating and horrifying."[25] The film won the 2011 Documentary award in the Amnesty International UK Media Awards.[26] The film was broadcast on Channel 4's More4 service.

The issue has been covered by RAWA, Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.[27] The practice of bacha bazi prompted the United States Department of Defense to hire social scientist AnnaMaria Cardinalli to investigate the problem, as ISAF soldiers on patrol often passed older men walking hand-in-hand with young boys. British soldiers found that young Afghan men were actually trying to "touch and fondle them," which the soldiers didn't understand.[6]

In the novel The Kite Runner, and in the movie of the same name, the practice of bacha bazi is depicted. In the plot, the protagonist's half-nephew is forced to become a dancing boy and sexual slave to a high-ranking official of the Taliban government, who also had, years earlier, raped the boy's father when the father was a pre-teen and the official was a teenager.

In December 2010, a cable made public by WikiLeaks revealed that foreign contractors from DynCorp had spent money on bacha bazi in northern Afghanistan. Afghan Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar requested that the US military assume control over DynCorp training centers in response, but the US embassy claimed that this was not "legally possible under the DynCorp contract".[13]

A documentary film by Najibullah Quraishi about dancing boys was screened by the UK Royal Society of Arts on March 29, 2010[23] and aired by the U.S. TV series PBS Frontline on 20 April 2010."[24]

In March 2011, The Documentary series on the BBC World Service addressed the concerns over the increased incidence of Dancing Boys and how this was at odds with the image which many wish to project about the post-Taliban future.[28]

In December 2012, a young man in an "improper relationship" with a commander of the Afghan Border Police killed eight guards. He had made a drugged meal for the guards and then, with the help of two friends, attacked them, after which they fled to neighboring Pakistan.[29]

In a 2013 Vice Media, Inc. documentary titled "This Is What Winning Looks Like", British independent film-maker Ben Anderson describes the systematic kidnapping, sexual enslavement and murder of young men and boys by local security forces in the Afghan city of Sangin. The film depicts several scenes of Anderson along with American military personal describing how difficult it is to work with the Afghan police considering the blatant molestation and rape of local youth. The documentary also contains footage of an American military advisor confronting the then acting Police Chief on the abuse after a young boy is shot in the leg after trying to escape a police barrack. When the marine suggests that the barracks be searched for children, and that any policeman found to be engaged in pedophilia be arrested and jailed, the high-ranking officer insists what occurs between the security forces and the boys is consensual, saying "[the boys] like being there and giving their asses at night." He went on to claim that this practice was historic and necessary. "If [my commanders] don't fuck the asses of those boys, what should they fuck? The pussies of their own Grandmothers?"[30]

In 2015, The New York Times reported that U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan were instructed by their commanders to ignore child sexual abuse being carried out by Afghan security forces, except "when rape is being used as a weapon of war." American soldiers have been instructed not to intervene — in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records. But the U.S. soldiers have been increasingly troubled that instead of weeding out pedophiles, the US military was arming them against the Taliban and placing them as the police commanders of villages — and doing little when they began abusing children. One U.S. Army Captain, Dan Quinn, became distressed after hearing cries of young boys being raped by Afghan officers. He then intervened and beat up the Afghan officer who was responsible. After the beating, the US Army relieved the Captain of his command and pulled him from Afghanistan. He has since left the military.[31][32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Boys in Afghanistan Sold Into Prostitution, Sexual Slavery", Digital Journal, Nov 20, 2007
  2. ^ Coomaraswamy, Radhika Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Children at United Nations General Assembly, October 14, 2009
  3. ^ Qobil, Rustam (September 7, 2010). "I'm at a wedding party in a remote village in northern Afghanistan." "The sexually abused dancing boys of Afghanistan" Check |url= scheme (help). BBC News. Retrieved April 30, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Bacha bazi in Northern Afghanistan (Mazar-e-sharif) Shamali culture.". 
  5. ^ Mondloch, Chris (Oct 28, 2013). "Bacha Bazi: An Afghan Tragedy". Foreign Policy Magazine. Retrieved Apr 23, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b Brinkley, Joel (Aug 29, 2010). "Afghanistan's dirty little secret". Retrieved Apr 23, 2015. 
  7. ^ Ghaith Abdul-Ahad. "The dancing boys of Afghanistan". the Guardian. 
  8. ^ "Transcript". 
  9. ^ Roshni Kapur, The Diplomat. "Bacha Bazi: The Tragedy of Afghanistan’s Dancing Boys". The Diplomat. 
  10. ^ "Afghan boy dancers sexually abused by former warlords". Reuters. 2007-11-18. Retrieved April 30, 2015. 
  11. ^ a b Arni Snaevarr. "The dancing boys of Afghanistan". United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC). 
  12. ^ a b London Times: Kandahar Men Return to Original Love: Teenage Boys. January 27, 2002. Accessed February 9, 2015.
  13. ^ a b Boone, Jon (December 2, 2010). "Foreign contractors hired Afghan 'dancing boys', WikiLeaks cable reveals". The Guardian (London). 
  14. ^ Quraishi, Najibullah Uncovering the world of "bacha bazi" at New York Times April 20, 2010
  15. ^ Bannerman, Mark The Warlord's Tune: Afghanistan's war on children at Australian Broadcasting Corporation February 22, 2010
  16. ^ Londoño, Ernesto. "Afghanistan sees rise in ‘dancing boys’ exploitation". Washington Post. Washington Post. Retrieved 24 September 2015. 
  17. ^ Shay, Anthony. "The Male Dancer in the Middle East and Central Asia". Retrieved July 7, 2008. 
  18. ^ Schuyler, Eugene, Turkistan: Notes of a Journey in Russian Turkistan, Khokand, Bukhara and Kuldja (London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle & Rivington) 1876, Vol.I pp 132-3
  19. ^ "Pastimes of Central Asians. Group of Male Musicians Posing with Several Batchas, or Dancing Boys". World Digital Library. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  20. ^ "Pastimes of Central Asians. Group of Male Musicians Posing with Several Batchas, or Dancing Boys, 2". World Digital Library. Retrieved 14 May 2014. 
  21. ^ Count K. K. Pahlen, Mission to Turkestan: Being the memoirs of Count K.K. Pahlen, translation by Mr. N. Couriss, 1908-1909
  22. ^ B.M. Ilkin (Б. — Г. М. — А. Илькин), A.A. Divayev (А. — Б. А. — Д. Диваев), Pyotr Komarov (Петр Комаров), Песни бачей (Songs of the bacchá). In: Кауфманский сборник, изданный в память 25 лет, истекших со дня смерти покорителя Туркестанского края, генерал-адъютанта К. П. фон-Кауфмана I-го ("Kaufman Collection: for the 25th anniversary of the death of Adjutant General K.P. von Kaufman, the conqueror of Central Asia"), Moscow, 1910 (Uzbek) (Russian)
  23. ^ a b "True Stories: The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan", 29 March 2010
  24. ^ a b "The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan", PBS Frontline TV documentary, April 20, 2010.
  25. ^ Graham, Nicholas (April 22, 2010). "'Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan': Bacha Bazi Documentary Exposes Horrific Sexual Abuse Of Young Afghan Boys (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. Retrieved July 3, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Amnesty announces 2011 Media Awards winners". Amnesty International UK (AIUK). May 24, 2011. Archived from the original on Jan 10, 2013. Retrieved January 10, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Some Afghan Men Form Sexual Relationships With Young Boys" (August 31, 2010) RAWA News
  28. ^ "The Documentary: Afghanistan's Dancing Boys". BBC World Service. BBC. Mar 23, 2011. Retrieved January 14, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Betrayed while asleep, Afghan police die at hands of their countrymen" (December 27, 2012) New York Times
  30. ^ Vice Media, Inc. This Is What Victory Looks Like May 6, 2013
  31. ^ The New York Times U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, SEPT. 20, 2015
  32. ^ Jake Tapper and Jethro Mullen, CNN, U.S. military accused of telling soldiers to overlook Afghan abuse of boys September 22, 2015

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