They Don’t Just Dance
Everybody knows that women who live in Afghanistan’s male-dominated society face a long list of restrictions and prohibitions. Some of these restrictions are quite extreme such as not being allowed to go to parties or dances. That one rule in particular led to the birth of a tradition that started many years ago: training young boys mostly between the ages of 12 and 15 to dress up like women and dance at men-only parties. The boys twirl and shimmy while the men clap and laugh and enjoy the private show.
These young boys are known as ‘bacha bazi’ or dancing boys and their job includes a lot more than just dancing. After the party, it’s customary for the adult men to choose their favorite boy with whom they want to have sex. Sometimes the boys are passed around among many guests and sometimes they are paid a small sum of money for their services.
Because premarital sex is forbidden for women, Afghan men seek the company of these rent boys. Ironically, sex with an underage boy is considered less of a sin than having sex with an unmarried woman. On the same note, male child prostitution is seen as a lesser evil than female prostitution.
The men who recruit the young boys know exactly how to lure them, too. They aren’t looking for the cutest or the most graceful at all. They focus primarily on those who live in the most poverty stricken neighborhoods—the ones who are desperate enough to do almost anything for a little bit of money and a little bit of attention. You see, women in Afghanistan are also forbidden to work and this inevitably places a lot of pressure on men because they are the only breadwinners in the home. For this reason boys often have the need to contribute financially to their families from a very young age. This is especially true if the father dies or is severely injured or maimed and can’t work anymore.
Some of the boys continue working as bacha bazis well into their twenties, when they reach an age in which they are expected to marry a woman and start having children. However, for others it’s a temporary occupation to help them through a rough financial situation or to help them save up enough money for their future.
The practice is officially illegal in modern Afghanistan, but the men who keep and recruit bachas, are well connected and rich. This essentially places them above the law. Besides, dressing boys as if they were women is a long-standing tradition that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. In fact, it’s probably undergoing a revival despite the government’s efforts to sweep it under the rug.