Saturday, September 18, 2010

The world is full of bigotry and hypocrisy. There has been a furore about Catholic priests and sexual abuse as though it is something new but which I imagine has been going on for a very long time but at least and at last it has been brought into the light of day. I apologise for bringing this subject up once again but an article by Rustam Qobil of the BBC World Service has really set the teeth on edge. We’ve been into the plight of women in Islam but, considering homosexuality is forbidden by Islam, despite the homoerotic works of the early Persian poets, and can lead to torture and death, here is something equally as distressing that in a more civilised part of the world would be regarded as paedophilia, as child abuse. I am not confusing the two as so many straights tend to do but making both points. Here is a truncated slightly altered version of the article.
“In Afghanistan women are not allowed to dance in public, but boys can be made to dance in women's clothing - and they are often sexually abused.”
At a wedding party in a remote village in northern Afghanistan where only men are present, everyone's attention is focused on a 15-year-old boy. He's dancing for the crowd in a long and shiny woman's dress, his face covered by a red scarf. He is wearing fake breasts and bells around his ankles.
This is an ancient tradition. People call it bachabaze which literally means "playing with boys".
The most disturbing thing is what happens after the parties. Often the boys are taken to hotels and sexually abused.
The men behind the practice are often wealthy and powerful. Some of them keep several bachas (boys) and use them as status symbols - a display of their riches. The boys, who can be as young as 12, are usually orphans or from very poor families.
Qobil evidently spent months trying to find a bacha who was willing to talk about his experience.
Omid (not his real name) is 15 years old. His father died in the fields, when he stepped on a landmine. As the eldest son, it's his job to look after his mother - who begs on the streets - and two younger brothers.
"I started dancing at wedding parties when I was 10, when my father died," he says. "We were hungry, I had no choice. Sometimes we go to bed on empty stomachs. When I dance at parties I earn about $2 or some pilau rice."
Qobil asked him what happens when people take him to hotels. He bows his head and pauses for a long time before answering. He said he is paid about $2 for the night. Sometimes he is gang raped. He was asked why he didn't go to the police for help.
"They are powerful and rich men. The police can't do anything against them."
There have been very few attempts by the authorities to clamp down on the bachabaze tradition.
Muhammad Ibrahim, deputy Police Chief of Jowzjan province, denies that the practice continues but according to Abdulkhabir Uchqun, an MP from northern Afghanistan, the tradition is not just alive, but steadily growing. "Unfortunately it is on the increase in almost every region of Afghanistan. I asked local authorities to act to stop this practice but they don't do anything," he says. "Our officials are too ashamed to admit that it even exists."
Afghanistan is a country where Islamic values are cherished so Qobil asked a Grand Mullah for his views on bachabaze. "Bachabaze is in no way acceptable in Islam. Actually, it's child abuse. It's happening because our justice system doesn't work. This country has been lawless for many years and responsible bodies and people can't protect children," he explains.
Dancing boys are picked out at a young age by men who cruise the streets looking for effeminate boys among the poor and vulnerable. They offer them money and food. The Independent Human Rights Commission in Kabul is one of the few organisations that has attempted to address the bachabaze practice. The group's head, Musa Mahmudi, says while it is common in many parts of Afghanistan there have been no studies to determine how many children are abused across the country. The streets of Afghanistan are full of working children. They polish shoes, they beg, they gather plastic bottles to resell. They will take on any job which will earn them some money, he says.
Every Afghan he spoke to knew about bachabaze. Many tried to convince him that it exists only in remote areas. But at a party late at night in the old quarter of Kabul, less than a mile from the government's headquarters he met a 40-year-old man who was proud to have three dancing boys, the youngest 15, the oldest 18. He says he has never slept with his boys, though he admits he hugs and kisses them.
When Qobil told him that many people think this practice is wrong.
"Some people like dog fighting, some practice cockfighting. Everyone has their hobby, for me, it's bachabaze," he said.
There are many people who support this tradition across Afghanistan and many of them are very influential.
The Afghan government is unable and some say unwilling to tackle the problem. The justice system is weak, poverty is widespread, and there are thousands of children on the streets trying to make a living.
So bachabaze will continue.

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