A recent documentary on Channel 4, part of the new season of True stories programme took us through the hidden world of the dancing boys of Afghanistan. These are boys, under the age of 18 who are kept for entertainment purposes, to dance and shimmy with the older men (often their “owners” or guests at a party) with sex also being a component of their role as dancing boys. Bacha baazi, as its referred to, is a common practice in Northern regions of Afghanistan (but slowly trickling to other cities and provinces) perpertuated by older men,  the one’s in the documentary varying between the ages of 30-60 (some being older), often with enough disposible income and wealth to lure boys from impoverished backgrounds in the hope of supporting and sustaining their families in exchange. For those who struggle with the looming poverty reigning over them, as with most of the population, such an offer is hard to resist. Some families sincerely believe their boys will be used purely for dancing purposes only and not be sexually exploited.

The documentary made the point several times of the inaccessibility of women to the Afghan men due to the strict nature of purdah in the country resulted in the substitution of boys who were readily available and within their vicinity, from street children to those working in tea houses and food stalls. The reference to women being inaccessible somehow implied that were women available for entertainment and sexual pleasuring (prostitution), these boys would be spared which is quite a poor explanation and reasoning behind the popularity of bacha baazi )despite the boys often being dressed in women’s clothing and ghunghru for their dances and needing to be attractive in appearance, slim and nimble – like nymphs)

The keeping of boys, openly flaunted and boasted as being toy boys, was not about sexuality. Sexuality played little a role in the desire of these older men (some married, some single) enjoying them, boasting about their dancing talent, and holding parties especially for their friends and peers to come and watch and often take their boy home for the night. Some confessed to becoming habituated to having boys for company during their days in the fighting against the Russians and some of the boys wanting sex themselves, others professed an attraction for them whilst some simply enjoyed the elevated status it brought having a boy under their wing, to exploit and swap with their peers. There was no mention of plying the boys with drugs to keep them addicted and therefore wanting to stay, but I suspect this may be also be a factor or a method used in keeping them from running away (aside from the threat of being killed and/or beaten)

Boys for this purpose remain this “charm” until they hit adulthood, which for the Afghan men would be around 18. After this, the boys are no longer desirable and left to go. And often the victims may become perpetrators of the same kind,  as one dancing boy shared his goal of having 20-30 dancing boys when he is able to afford it and hold parties for his friends to be entertained in the same manner as he had been entertaining his “masters” friends, despite stating in the beginning he had no choice in becoming like this or living this existence so had accepted it. An insight as to what these parties consist:

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 (Source)

What used to be brushed under the carpet or denied, is now openly flaunted with the government being aware of it but doing nothing. One wonders what kind of a life these boys end up etching for themselves and where the morals of the men who engage in this are, or how they manage to dabble in this sort of things and feel no sense of guilt in destroying the lives and innocence of these poor boys.