DND News

Victims of "Boy Play" abandoned again

As David Pugliese reported in 2008, a Board of Inquiry was established by DND to look into the situation of "Man-Love Thursdays" – an atrocity masquerading as a cultural norm – and allegations that Canadian troops were being told to turn a blind eye to the practice. There had been many people quoted in media reports from the Toronto Star and the National Post on this topic.

That Canadian Armed Forces' Board of Inquiry has finally released its report, finding there was "no evidence" to support allegations that CAF members in Afghanistan were told by superiors to ignore incidents in which Afghan soldiers and interpreters sexually assaulted young boys. This, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Apparently investigators were unable to find any of the soldiers suffering depression after being told by superiors to stifle their disgust while continuing to put their lives on the line.

As reported in the Toronto Star in 2012, Canadian Forces chaplain Jean Johns had filed a 2008 report describing how she counselled a Canadian soldier who said he witnessed a boy being raped by an Afghan soldier. Presumably the Board of Inquiry could not find any of these people, stating “this accusation was vehemently denied by every CF member interviewed.”

That said, a US soldier explained the issue more clearly, saying there was never an official order to look the other way, but it was standard operating procedure because of the risk of being shot in the back. He describes the feelings of rage over this seemingly "hopeless" situation. "Everyone basically said to shut up so you don’t ‘disrespect their culture’, which gets you shot."

A National Post reporter witnessed the weekly line-up of young boys being waived through the gates: "Canadian soldiers in the main guard tower at forward operating base Wilson last summer winced when I asked about the sudden lineup of teenage boys along the mud walls of the neighbouring Afghan market."

In a related topic, FrontLine editor Chris MacLean had been telephoned by a DND official after posting a news report about the loss of women's rights in Afghanistan in 2009. The call was to "explain" that Canada was not in a position to "pass judgement" on the "culture" of Afghanistan. This call resulted in an editorial article questioning how calling out human rights abuses could even remotely be considered an issue of cultural interference. 

Following the conclusion by the Board of Inquiry that Canadian soldiers were not told to ignore this abhorrent practice, FrontLine encourages its audience to read the following excerpt of a very thorough report on the whole sad situation, as well as the related articles appended at the end.

You be the judge... should Western countries continue to fund the current Afghan government which accepts such abuse and allows if not encourages it to flourish? Note, in particular, that the Taliban very actively discouraged systemic abuse of children.

The Destruction of Afghanistan’s Boys (excerpt )

In attempting to build relations with their in-country allies as well as promote the image of successful training, Western officials have deliberately ignored numerous accounts from American, British and Canadian ground troops concerning child sexual abuse perpetrated throughout Afghan-Coalition camps as well as the surrounding civilian areas. The abuse itself is often inflicted by many Afghan high ranking commanders, interpreters, ANA (Afghan National Army) and ANP (Afghan National Police) personnel.

Leadership in the region has attempted to mute reports of abuse, as well as suffocating legal measures, for fear of public shame and western media disapproval. There is also hesitation in raising the ire of local warlords, many of whom are actively involved in child prostitution, trafficking and the nations juggernaut opium trade. “Some men enjoy playing with dogs, some with women. I enjoy playing with boys,” Allah Daad, a notorious warlord, told local reporter Sayed Ibrahimi.

The few reports that have surfaced regarding sexual abuse in Afghanistan reveal only a glimpse into the staggering volume of trauma, injury and dysfunction stemming from a male dominated culture steeped in religious constrictions and manufactured moral impunity.

“Bacha bazi,” directly translated from Persian into the Afghan dialect, means “boy play” and is a centuries-old cultural practice that contributes directly to the abuse of children and mistreatment of women in Pashtun culture. It is the act of coercing boys to dance for an all male audience, generally in a seductive style and dressed as women. Bacha bazi is also the culturally sanctioned practice of raping little Pashtun boys.

Although illegal in Afghanistan, bacha bazi continues unchecked and unchallenged due to its widespread nature and influential participants. Using a selective translation of Islamic law and a liberal interpretation of what constitutes homosexuality, a damaging compromise has seen the systematic deconstruction of Pashtun perceptions concerning relationships with prepubescent boys and the value of women in society.

The victims of “boy play” are Afghan boys from the age of nine to sixteen years old. Boys at this age are sought due to the ‘feminine’ qualities that they possess. Hairless legs, a beardless face and soft features coupled with a submissive nature makes an “Ashna” — term used for the boys, meaning “Beloveds” — adored by participants of bacha bazi. “Having a boy has become a custom for us. Whoever wants to show off, should have a boy,” an owner told Reuters.

Historically, denying young men sexual freedom has rarely resulted in anything less than emotional damage, mental havoc and thinly spread rage. Add to that cocktail a decade long invasion, personal abuse history and the threat of a callous, cruel deity that, should you have a carnal heterosexual experience/thought, will take morbid pleasure in eviscerating you with damnation and hell-fire.

The fallout from this cycle affects both genders, and could possibly be a part of what leads to violence against women and women’s suppression in Pashtun culture. If women are no longer the source of companionship or sexual desire, they become increasingly and threateningly foreign.

This distance between genders twinned with the perceived “uncleanliness” of the female body, as dictated by many fundamentalist Imams due to the menstrual cycle, has plagued Afghanistan’s women for centuries. Shamefully degraded and dishonoured, the women of Afghanistan’s major tribe is still, to this day, under a doctrinal oppression that assumes the role of chain, muzzle and whip. The position of women in Pashtun culture is now hurtling towards a utilitarian vocation with the ability to give birth remaining the only value recognized.

As young boys are removed [from their mothers‘ care around the age of 7], women are increasingly stripped of value and worth within the familial structure, depriving the children of a healthy female image, respect for a future partner, and a strong sense of identity. Instead, Afghan boys are raised to observe women as weak, submissive and disposable tools rather than meaningful, lifelong relationships consisting of mutual respect and trust. This divide has also negated women as potential candidates for consistent Afghan companionship, a role now filled both by and for males.

This repeated castration of critical thought has bred the common phrase, “Women are for children; boys are for pleasure,” referring to the nerve-deep perception of women as superfluous save the ability to bear children, as well as alluding to a sexual preference now synonymous with the adolescent male population of the region.

Alongside nurturing an unhealthy desire for the company of young boys, the male-focused mentality undermines a basic understanding of human anatomy, biology and sexuality. Many newly-married Pashtun men are either unaware of the process required to conceive a child or they are reviled by the thought of desiring a woman sexually.

According to many fundamentalist Imams, women are unclean, therefore the desire to be with a woman for any other reason than to procreate is foreign. Sexual desire, guided by religious disapproval, has been redirected away from Pashtun women and towards the thousands of young boys who have even less understanding of Islamic law than the men raping them.

Practitioners of bacha bazi and those who observe it as an innocent pursuit operate using a heavily diluted translation of Islamic law. Islamic law is drawn from the Quran, the holy book of Islam. The Quran is an Arabic text outlining the rule of law for those who follow the Prophet Muhammed. Sodomy and homosexuality are forbidden under Islamic law.

According to the Pashtun, sex with a young boy is considered a “foible” or misstep, whereas sex with an unwed woman sets the stage for almost certain revenge attacks and honour killings. Although publicly condemning the assaults, many local religious leaders are accused of keeping their own “chai boys” hidden within holy buildings.

Those appointed as the spiritual pillars of the population are reinforcing an interpretation that has allowed the sodomy of young boys for centuries. Their interpretation of the Quran’s text, however intolerant and archaic the original may be towards homosexuality, is “Love between two men is forbidden, however sexual gratification is not against Islam.”

The Hadiths, a scholar-curated collection of teachings from the prophet Muhammed, is quoted on the subject of homosexuality in practice as saying “This sin, the impact of which makes one’s skin crawl, which words cannot describe, is evidence of perverted instincts, total collapse of shame and honour, and extreme filthiness of character and soul. The Heavens, The Earth and The Mountains tremble at this sin. The angels shudder as they anticipate the punishment of Allah to descend upon the people who commit this indescribable sin.”

Hence the rigid homophobia in other Islamic as well as Christian, adhering to biblical denouncement, countries including Iran, Yemen, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Nigeria, India, Qatar, Sudan, UAE, Uganda and Somalia.

According to many Afghan religious scholars and leaders, it’s abhorrent and forbidden to profess love for another man. However, a sexual relationship with a male, approached from purely carnal desire, is not only permissible but considered a preferable alternative to the perceived horror of pre-marital sex with a woman, a crime known as “Zina.”

A large part of this judicial fiction also consists of the belief that it’s not homosexual unless you not only have feelings towards the male, but are also a “bottom.” When applied to the copious underage rapes, the results end by vilifying whomever is being attacked and granting clemency to the attacker.

Primed and calibrated for optimum fearmongering, this semi-literate prose posing as doctrine has pulsed throughout cultural theology and into the Pashtun faithful for centuries.

During Taliban rule of the region from 1996 to late 2001, under Mullah Omar, bacha bazi was driven from the social norm and outlawed as a transgression against humanity and Allah.

In 2002, Tim Reid reported, “Kandahar’s Pashtuns have been notorious for their homosexuality for centuries, particularly their fondness for naive young boys.” Reid also states that prior to the arrival of the Taliban “the streets were filled with teenagers and their sugar daddies, flaunting their relationship… Such is the Pashtun obsession with sodomy — locals tell you that birds fly over the city using only one wing, the other covering their posterior — that the rape of young boys by warlords was one of the key factors in Mullah Omar mobilising the Taliban.”

A zero-tolerance ban on sodomy and all forms of homosexuality, bacha bazi chief among these, was enforced throughout the region with martial, capital and lethal strength. The Taliban’s parameters drew from a pre Islamic Pashtun code as well as a rigid strain of Wahabi doctrines. This new governance brought with it an emphasis on eliminating “immoral vices.”

Any trace of sexual tendencies or relations between males was met with a swift death sentence varying from stoning to being hung from makeshift gallows constructed on the rear of cargo trucks. Although extreme and desperately intolerant towards homosexuality, these executions appeared to curb the seemingly unstoppable epidemic of child abuse and rape ravaging the country. However harsh, the iron rule of the Taliban did little to extinguish the desire for male and boy companionship. The practice continued under cover of darkness and in secret until the Taliban’s grip on the region was lifted due to the Coalition invasion.

Mere days following the initial fall of the Taliban, and the resurgence of local governance, bacha bazi openly found new vigour in the imaginations and activities of Pashtun men. CDs and DVDs of performances began to feed the growing demand for Afghanistan’s dancing boys, especially for those who couldn’t afford the actual experience.

The Times Of London, reporting from Kandahar following the overthrow, stated “Now that Taliban rule is over in Mullah Omar’s former southern stronghold, it is not only televisions, kites and razors which have begun to emerge. Visible again, too, are men with their ‘ashna’, or beloveds: young boys they have groomed for sex.”

With the coalition invasion in full swing by 2002, the volume of newly orphaned and displaced boys rose, as did the prevalence and frequency of juvenile prostitution. Many actively looked for older male companions in order to escape squalor and the danger of homelessness. Those who weren’t “fortunate” enough to attract a patriarchal benefactor looked to the Kandahar tea rooms, banquet halls and military bases for the opportunity of gaining an elder companion.

The Taliban, despite their brutal policies, actions and outlook, had more integrity and surreal credibility in protecting children than the current government.

Political inertia, judicial cowardice, eradication of vital female influence and suffocating doctrinal restrictions on male Pashtun sexual identity have systematically mangled cultural views towards sexual abuse, specifically of prepubescent boys and young men. This early psychological recalibration, as well as common sexual abuse, set the stage for abusive patterns in males that historically target women and future pre-pubescent boys.

There is a disturbing rupture between the moral intentions that Coalition leadership professed, and the betrayal of ground forces through repeated orders to disregard overwhelming evidence of pedophilia and ignore the constant rape of children.

Religious leaders, government officials and Afghan military personnel are directly responsible for the continued failure to protect the children of the Pashtun tribe, and all those who suffer at the hands of the unbridled rape culture. Through denial of widespread corruption, and paranoia of tainting an image already riddled with warranted distrust, Afghan lawmakers, religious leaders and bacha bazi practitioners stand in flagrant defiance of every child’s non-negotiable right to a safe upbringing.

Coalition leaderships’ failure to hold their Afghan allies to task concerning corruption, as well as a refusal to seek legal action against serial rapists, has directly resulted in a humanitarian and judicial abortion that withholds retribution from abusers, as well as justice from the abused, and denies Afghanistan a grasp at the last dwindling threads of an increasingly wraithlike future.

Read more of this 2015 report: