In June, I made note of the surprising improvement in gay rights in Afghanistan, calling it “one of the great unintended consequences of the invasion.” Nestled within the (extremely brief) discussion of how pre-modern Islam used to treat homosexuality, and what the West would call ephebophilia (a love of teenage boys), was the revelation that so-called “boy marriages” still take place today… Meaning, older men will marry, for lack of a better term, their teenage boy-lovers.
Wealthy former warlords in Baghlan, a northern province of Afghanistan, recruit adolescent boys for sex and entertainment, while local authorities remain powerless in stopping the practice.
A ‘bacha bereesh’ is a boy without a beard, and in several circles a beardless boy is most desired by rich, powerful male patrons. Grown men become involved in ‘bacha bazi’— which literally translates into ‘boy-play’. This is a time-honored tradition, condemned by human rights activists and Muslim clerics, but it is seeing a revival in the north province of Afghanistan. It is by no means restricted to the north of Afghanistan only, but has virtually faded in the south, where the Taliban’s strict moral code act as a deterrent…
Large halls provide the venues for the weekly parties where the boys’ owners, invite their friends to watch them dancing. Several different types of dances are popular, Daad says, and if the boy refuses to dance or performs badly, his master beats him with a long stick.
“We have to do that,” explains Daad. “We spend money on these boys, so they have to dance.”
Later into the night, once the dancing is over, the boys are frequently shared with close friends, for sexual favors. And by the end of the evening it is not at all uncommon for the boy to have a new owner, as the parties often provide the opportunity for buying and selling.
An enlightened sense of multicultural tolerance surely draws the line here. It is not controversial to call this sex slavery—the worst sort, involving children. In stark contrast to the West, where there is a very real dichotomy between what we consider to be homosexuality and what we consider to be pederasty, in Baghlan it seems the distinction is meaningless, partially born of an unfulfilled and not-so-latent same-sex attraction:
“We know it is immoral and unIslamic, but how can we quit?” asks 35 year-old Chaman Gul. “We do not like women, we just want boys.”
Perhaps gay rights haven’t had the near-miraculous breakthrough I thought. There is probably a fascinating thesis in there somewhere, uncovering the social origins of sexual attraction, and what constitutes legitimate sexual desire versus mental illness. In this case, however, seeing these boys treated literally like property, bought and sold and “shared” like empty lifeless dolls… that is so far beyond the pale, I can’t fathom anyone leaping to its defense.
Update: Péter Marton relates the following documentary of the Dutch forces in Uruzgan (of course), that mentions the problem of “lover boys” in the corrupt police:
Another commenter notes anecdotes of how rampant pederasty may have led to the rise of the Taliban in Kandahar. Recall Kandahar was known in the 70s as the “Gay Capital of South Asia.” That was destroyed before the Taliban moved in, but capturing boys as a sign of power is not the mark of a healthy society. I’m deeply worried.