“Bacha Bazi” – a.k.a. “boy play” – is a practice in which young boys are coerced into sexual slavery, sometimes dressed as women and made to dance. It was popular among the mujahideen fighting the Soviets in the years preceding Taliban rule. The centuries-old custom was abolished under the Taliban, a ban that carried a death sentence for those who broke the law. That ban was in effect from 1996 until after the 2001 NATO invasion when it resurfaced.
In Uruzgan province, in central Afghanistan, north of Kandahar, the custom affects many of the local police chiefs. It’s so deeply ingrained in the society there, Taliban insurgents use young boys coerced into the act in Trojan Horse attacks.
The boys infiltrate the ranks of the Afghan national police or are recruited by the Taliban with the promise of revenge. According to reports from Agence France-Presse (AFP), Afghan policemen say the boys are known to be commanders’ sex slaves and can move about freely. One teenager waited until all the policemen were asleep, then went on a shooting rampage. He allowed the Taliban into the base to finish off any survivors. Such attacks have been going on for two years. There have been many in the first six months of 2016, an indication of a Taliban tactic that seems to be working.
AFP reports all of the 370 Afghan police checkpoints have such sex slaves. The boys are recruited illegally and also used as fighters when necessary. Many policemen in Uruzgan will not work for a checkpoint that doesn’t have these young boys. Provincial governors have difficulty enforcing the laws against Bacha Bazi because the men jailed for it are needed to fight the war against the Taliban or because the leaders are complicit in the crime.
Though the U.S. Department of State considers the custom “culturally sanctioned male rape,” one U.S. Army Special Forces NCO, Charles Martland, was almost kicked out of the Army for trying to prevent the practice. Martland assaulted an Afghan police commander to prevent the commander from raping a young boy. He spent years in limbo before being allowed to stay in the Army.
Central government authorities are afraid to investigate local police commanders, considering the amount of power they yield. They fear the commanders will not allow anyone investigating them for Bacha Bazi crimes to leave their jurisdiction alive. When the UN raised the issue with the first Afghan President Hamid Karzai, his response was curt.
“Let us win the war first,” Karzai said. “Then we will deal with such matters.”
The Russian government-funded Russia Today (widely known as RT), produced a short documentary about the practice in early 2016.