Prostitution in Afghanistan

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Prostitution in Afghanistan is illegal, with punishments ranging from 5 to 15 years imprisonment.[1] Despite Afghanistan being deeply religious and one of the most conservative countries in the world, where sex outside marriage is against the law,[2] some prostitution activities are reported in the capital Kabul as well as in the Mazar-e-Sharif area in the north of the country.[3][4]

Afghanistan is one of the source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. Trafficking within Afghanistan is more prevalent than transnational trafficking, and the majority of victims are children. Afghan boys and girls are trafficked within the country and into Iran, Pakistan and India as well as Persian gulf Arab states for forced prostitution and forced labor in brick kilns, carpet-making factories,[5] and domestic service. Forced begging is a growing problem in Afghanistan; Mafia groups organize professional begging rings. Afghan boys are subjected to forced prostitution and forced labor in the drug smuggling industry in Pakistan and Iran. Afghan women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution, forced marriages—including those in which husbands force their wives into prostitution—and involuntary domestic servitude in Pakistan and Iran, and possibly India. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) report that over the past year, increasing numbers of boys were trafficked internally. Some families knowingly sell their children for forced prostitution, including for bacha bazi - a practice combining sexual slavery and child prostitution, through which wealthy men use harems of young boys for social and sexual entertainment. Other families send their children with brokers to gain employment. Many of these children end up in forced labor, particularly in Pakistani carpet factories. NGOs indicate that families sometimes make cost-benefit analyses regarding how much debt they can incur based on their tradable family members.[6]

Afghan men are subjected to forced labor and debt bondage in the agriculture and construction sectors in Iran, Pakistan, Greece, the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, and possibly Southeast Asian countries. Under the pretense of high-paying employment opportunities, traffickers lure foreign workers to Afghanistan, and lure Afghan villagers to Afghan cities or to India or Pakistan, then sometimes subject them to forced labor or forced prostitution at the destination. At the end of 2009 and beginning of 2010, an increasing number of male migrants from Sri Lanka, Nepal, and India, who had migrated willingly to Afghanistan, were then subjected to forced labor.[6]

Under the former Taliban regime, prostitution existed clandestinely in Kabul, despite being outlawed due to the government following a very strict interpretation of the Islamic Sharia law. Melissa Ditmore reports in Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work that during their rule the traffic in women for prostitution thrived.[7][8] Prostitutes mostly worked from their houses termed as Qalas and in Kabul there were 25 to 30 hidden brothels.[8][9][10]

Legality and consequences[edit]

The practice of prostitution in Afghanistan is illegal, with punishments ranging from 5 to 15 years imprisonment and 80 lashes if unmarried.[1] Married prostitutes are considered adulterers under the Afghan penal code and subject to execution. Prostitution was even more strictly prohibited under the rule of the Taliban, with those thought of having extramarital sex risking extrajudicial killing by cultural fundamentalists and Islamists.

Extrajudicial risks[edit]

  • In July 2008, two Afghan women were accused of running a secret prostitution service and working for the police and killed by the Taliban in the Ghazni Province, although the local authorities as well as the American military in the area claimed the women were innocent.[11]
  • Two Afghan women accused of prostitution were shot dead in July 2010.[12]


Prostitution in the country is mostly driven by poverty and displacement.[3] Prohibition for women to work under Taliban rule meant some street children were forced into the trade in order to make a living.[13] According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, females from Iran, Tajikistan, China, and possibly Uganda and other places are forced into prostitution in Afghanistan.[14]

Women and girls from Iran, Tajikistan, and possibly Uganda and China are forced into prostitution in Afghanistan. Some international security contractors may have been involved in the sex trafficking of these women. Brothels and prostitution rings are sometimes run by foreigners, sometimes with links to larger criminal networks. Tajik women are also believed to be trafficked through Afghanistan to other countries for prostitution.[6]

A 2007 University of Manitoba report suggests that there may be about 900 female prostitutes in Kabul,[4] which is a city with a population of over 3 million. About two to three prostitution arrests were made between 2007 and 2008 each week in Afghanistan, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry's department of sexual crimes.[4]

According to Afghan traditions, the shame of prostitution is so intense that sometimes those involved in such activities are assassinated by the many religious extremists found throughout the country[11] or in some cases by family members.

"Prostitution is in every country that has poverty, and it exists in Afghanistan. But society has black glasses and ignores these problems. Tradition is honor, and if we talk about these taboos, then we break tradition."[4]

— Orzala Ashraf, women's rights activist

"In our culture, it is very, very bad."[3]

— Soraya Sobhrang, Afghan Independent Human Rights Commissioner for women's affairs


Brothels, sometimes run by foreigners, sometimes with links to larger criminal networks, manage to exist in several cities of the country by paying bribes to police officers who come to raid them.[3][14][15] There are reports of a couple of brothels in northern Afghanistan, in and around the Mazar-i-Sharif area of Balkh Province.[3]

The capital Kabul saw an extraordinary number of Chinese brothels ("Chinese restaurants") opened in the four years following the fall of the Taliban regime.[15] Four years later a series of police raids reduced the brothels to 3 which caters, according to Reuters, to a mainly high-income international clientele as Afghan aren't generally accepted in or, according to USA Today, to mostly Afghan men.[4][16]

"There are 200 of us here in Kabul, we don't go out much. It's not safe. I've been here for two years, the money is okay. We stay indoors. We don't go out."[16]

— A female bartender from northern China, 2006


There are also some recent reports about Mut'ah (Fegha in Dari (Persian)) beginning to be practiced in Mazar-i-Sharif.

"Nobody would give me their daughters to marry because I didn't have family or money. I started doing short marriages in Iran. When I came back to Mazar-i-Sharif, I continued."[17]

— Payenda Mohammad, A mechanic in Mazari-i-Sharif, 2006

Mut'ah is a fixed-term marriage practiced mainly in neighboring Shia-majority Iran but is rejected by the majority Sunni Muslims of Afghanistan and the rest of the world.[17]

Bacha bazi[edit]

Further information: Bacha Bazi

Like in many other Islamic countries, it is a major taboo in Afghan culture for women to dance in front of men. Males and females are segregated during weddings and other parties. As a form of adult entertainment, young males dress as females and dance in front of men to make money. "Bacha bereesh" (meaning "boys without beards" in Persian language) occasionally dance to entertain men at certain parties, especially in the north parts of Afghanistan.[18] Powerful patrons sometimes sexually exploit the dancers.[19][20]

The "Curse of 39"[edit]

Main article: Curse of 39

The 'Curse of 39' refers to the belief in some parts of Afghanistan that the number 39 is cursed or a badge of shame as it is purportedly linked with prostitution.[21]

The cause of the number's undesirability is unclear, but it has widely been claimed to have been associated with a pimp, allegedly living in the western city of Herat, who was nicknamed "39" after the registration plate of his expensive car and the number of his apartment.[22] The number is said to translate into morda-gow, literally meaning "dead cow" but a well-known slang term for a pimp. Others have blamed corrupt police officials for spreading the rumour in order to charge between $200–$500 to change a "39" plate.[23]

Vehicle registration plates incorporating the number are seen as so undesirable that vehicles and apartments bearing the numerals are said to be virtually unsellable in the capital, Kabul.[24] The drivers of such vehicles have reported receiving abuse and derision from pedestrians and other drivers, and some have had their registration plates altered to disguise the numbers. One such driver, Zalmay Ahmadi, told The Guardian: "When I drive around all the other cars flash their lights, beep their horns and people point at me. All my classmates now call me Colonel 39."[22]


  1. ^ a b "2008 Human Rights Report: Afghanistan". US Department of State. 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-13. 
  2. ^ Carlotta Gall (March 19, 2007). "A New Sorrow for Afghanistan: AIDS Joins List (page 1)". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Tahir Qadiry (May 18, 2008). "Under wraps, prostitution rife in north Afghanistan". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Alisa Tang (June 14, 2008). "Poverty pushes Afghan girls into sex trade". USA Today. Retrieved 2008-06-14. 
  5. ^ The 2014 TVPRA List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor, U.S. Department of Labor
  6. ^ a b c "Afghanistan". Trafficking in Persons Report 2010. U.S. Department of State (June 14, 2010).  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ Ditmore, Melissa Hope (2006). Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work. 1. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 392. ISBN 0-313-32968-0. 
  8. ^ a b "Prostitution Under the rule of Taliban". RAWA. August 1999. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  9. ^ M. Ilyas Khan (August 1999). "Beyond Good or Evil". The Herald Magazine. RAWA. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  10. ^ "RAWA Interview with some prostitutes". RAWA. June 2002. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  11. ^ a b "Afghan women shot dead by Taleban". BBC News. July 13, 2008. Retrieved 2010-07-31. 
  12. ^ Jafar Tayar (July 7, 2010). "Women barred from venturing out of homes". Pajhwok Afghan News. Retrieved 2010-11-02. 
  13. ^ Cesar Chelala (17 July 1999). "Taliban conducts a war against women". The Japan Times. Retrieved 16 August 2010. 
  14. ^ a b "Trafficking in Persons Report 2010". United States Embassy in Kabul. 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-02. Women and girls from Iran, Tajikistan, and possibly Uganda and China are forced into prostitution in Afghanistan. Some international security contractors may have been involved in the sex trafficking of these women. Brothels and prostitution rings are sometimes run by foreigners, sometimes with links to larger criminal networks. Tajik women are also believed to be trafficked through Afghanistan to other countries for prostitution. Trafficked Iranian women transit Afghanistan en route to Pakistan. 
  15. ^ a b Justin Huggler (February 10, 2006). "Chinese prostitutes arrested in Kabul 'restaurant' raids". The Independent. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  16. ^ a b Tan Ee Lyn and Jonathon Burch (May 19, 2008). "Chinese sex workers find their way to Kabul". Reuters. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  17. ^ a b Shoib Najafizada (April 22, 2006). "Temporary marriage catches on in Afghanistan". Daily Times. Retrieved 2010-07-31. 
  18. ^ Ghaith Abdul-Ahad (September 12, 2009). "The dancing boys of Afghanistan". The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-08-03. 
  19. ^ "Afghan 'Dancing Boys' Tell Of Rape, Abuse". January 25, 2016. Retrieved 2016-11-14. 
  20. ^ "Afghan boy dancers sexually abused by former warlords". Reuters. November 18, 2007. Retrieved 2010-08-03. 
  21. ^ Nissenbaum, Dion (2011-06-15). "A Symbol of Paid Companionship, No. 39 Is Afghans' Loneliest Number". The Wall Street Journal. 
  22. ^ a b Boone, Jon (2011-06-15). "The curse of number 39 and the steps Afghans take to avoid it". The Guardian. 
  23. ^ "Re-Creating Afghanistan: Returning to Istalif". NPR. 2002-08-01. 
  24. ^ Shalizi, Hamid (2011-06-15). "Cursed number "39" haunts Afghan car owners". Reuters.