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Bacha Bazi, or “boy play” as it’s known (pronounced bah-cha bah-zee), is the underage sex trafficking phenomenon in Afghanistan. There is just no other way to describe what is portrayed in PBS’s Frontline documentary, where young boys are kidnapped or sold by their poor families into sex slavery. To dress up their horrific actions, the men involved in this trade will often insist these boys are merely dressing up in women’s clothing and dancing in front of groups of paying men. But these boys are subjected to more than that. They are forced to have sex with these adult men. That they are killed if they don’t comply. And what’s perhaps even more disgusting than their actions is their blatant openness about it.
What Frontline and reporter Najibullah Quraishi is showing us (the documentary first aired Tuesday, but can be seen in full here) is Afghan men admitting on camera, and then displaying their terrorizing “business,” what they are doing to little boys. Adult men, with the financial means, pay to rape them. Some look as young as nine. This is not entertainment. It is terrorism.
And as we watch the documentary, the entire system is just mind-boggling. Little kids on the street are selling Bacha Bazi DVDs — that, easily, they could have been forced to star in. And even the successful businessman shown in the film, who is married and has two sons, has no qualms about speaking to the camera and showing his own son, as he goes about abducting these children. Sects of the police and military appear complicit, so long as their hands are greased, covering up illegal activity; even the Bacha Bazi parties are illegal, let alone the human trafficking. (The documentary shows footage of police chiefs and officers attending, not cracking down, on these events.)
The whole thing is just horrible. It’s difficult to watch. And that these men are doing all of this so brazenly, in open daylight, and on camera, is evidence not just how widespread the problem is, but how accepted this “taboo” subject really is. This is a culture that finds homosexuality disgusting. And yet, there’s this.