Dancing Boys and Girls in Afghanistan

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I recently saw the documentary The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, on the subject of Bacha Bazi, where “Prepubescent children are sold to wealthy or powerful men for entertainment and sexual activities.” It is deeply troubling to think about any form of pederasty being conducted in such an open way, particularly where the child is considered a status symbol of some kind, and there is a real danger of violence should they try to escape their situation.

In watching the documentary (and I have to praise the journalist for such a risky undertaking, the practitioners of Bacha Bazi are often warlords powerful in the region), it becomes clear that in making prepubescent boys dress like women and dance, then (often) rape or sexually assault them in some way (repeatedly, over time), that there is not only a terrible culture of pedophilia, but that it is in part related to the power dynamics between men and women; these men are accustomed to sexual relationships where they have the power, where they are significantly stronger and control all aspects of the relationship; women are less available to them, so they exploit similarly weak people within the society.

What struck me was that as horrifying as this practice is, it would be perceived as slightly less egregious if the dancing sex slaves were female. There are few people who are not deeply disturbed by children being sold into prostitution (except for these reprehensibles), however, as one person said about the doc, it combines two ‘taboos’ – the pedophilia taboo and the homosexual taboo.

Now, obviously, as far as I am concerned, there is no sexual-orientation taboo, sex with children is rape and disgusting regardless of the sex of the people involved, but I do think my co-viewer had a point in terms of ‘general opinion’ in that even if people don’t think homosexuality is wrong, they might find gay pedophilia grosser than straight pedophilia.

Does this apply to other, less controversial taboos? Perhaps – an incestuous pedophile might seem worse than a non-related pedophile, because they pervert the role not just of an adult but of a guardian. There is an added level of betrayal to moral conduct.

This then implies something about sexual relationships in general – that not only is straight sex privileged, but it is privileged even in criminal situations.

I think, too, that the dancing boys, in putting a male face into a commonly female situation, underscores the point that rape is about power and not about male frailty in the face of women’s sexuality. One might be less inclined to challenge female sex slavery because it falls within the parameters of standard male dominated power structures.

But it’s not just about gender – the dancing boys are also significantly about class. It is poor, disadvantaged families whose sons are bought or tricked from them. The power that these men wield is largely due to their financial situation, which allows them to buy political safety as well as poor children.

At the end of the documentary, the journalist reports what he has found to the UN, we learn that while this adds to the file, there is still little to be done – although one boy is helped to escape his enslavement, and charges are brought, they are soon dropped, and the police chief is back watching some of the dancing boys with the other child-slave-owning pederasts.

If a country has a culture where such behavior is politely ignored, what hope is there for any real human rights?

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