21 Dec 2010

Thousands of Afghan boys victims of serial rape for years due to perverse interpretation of Islamic law

San Francisco Chronicle - August 29, 2010

Afghanistan's dirty little secret

by Joel Brinkley

Western forces fighting in southern Afghanistan had a problem. Too often, soldiers on patrol passed an older man walking hand-in-hand with a pretty young boy. Their behavior suggested he was not the boy's father. Then, British soldiers found that young Afghan men were actually trying to "touch and fondle them," military investigator AnnaMaria Cardinalli told me. "The soldiers didn't understand."

All of this was so disconcerting that the Defense Department hired Cardinalli, a social scientist, to examine this mystery. Her report, "Pashtun Sexuality," startled not even one Afghan. But Western forces were shocked - and repulsed.

For centuries, Afghan men have taken boys, roughly 9 to 15 years old, as lovers. Some research suggests that half the Pashtun tribal members in Kandahar and other southern towns are bacha baz, the term for an older man with a boy lover. Literally it means "boy player." The men like to boast about it.

"Having a boy has become a custom for us," Enayatullah, a 42-year-old in Baghlan province, told a Reuters reporter. "Whoever wants to show off should have a boy."

Baghlan province is in the northeast, but Afghans say pedophilia is most prevalent among Pashtun men in the south. The Pashtun are Afghanistan's most important tribe. For centuries, the nation's leaders have been Pashtun.

President Hamid Karzai is Pashtun, from a village near Kandahar, and he has six brothers. So the natural question arises: Has anyone in the Karzai family been bacha baz? Two Afghans with close connections to the Karzai family told me they know that at least one family member and perhaps two were bacha baz. Afraid of retribution, both declined to be identified and would not be more specific for publication.

As for Karzai, an American who worked in and around his palace in an official capacity for many months told me that homosexual behavior "was rampant" among "soldiers and guys on the security detail. They talked about boys all the time."

He added, "I didn't see Karzai with anyone. He was in his palace most of the time." He, too, declined to be identified.

In Kandahar, population about 500,000, and other towns, dance parties are a popular, often weekly, pastime. Young boys dress up as girls, wearing makeup and bells on their feet, and dance for a dozen or more leering middle-aged men who throw money at them and then take them home. A recent State Department report called "dancing boys" a "widespread, culturally sanctioned form of male rape."

So, why are American and NATO forces fighting and dying to defend tens of thousands of proud pedophiles, certainly more per capita than any other place on Earth? And how did Afghanistan become the pedophilia capital of Asia?

Sociologists and anthropologists say the problem results from perverse interpretation of Islamic law. Women are simply unapproachable. Afghan men cannot talk to an unrelated woman until after proposing marriage. Before then, they can't even look at a woman, except perhaps her feet. Otherwise she is covered, head to ankle.

"How can you fall in love if you can't see her face," 29-year-old Mohammed Daud told reporters. "We can see the boys, so we can tell which are beautiful."

Even after marriage, many men keep their boys, suggesting a loveless life at home. A favored Afghan expression goes: "Women are for children, boys are for pleasure." Fundamentalist imams, exaggerating a biblical passage on menstruation, teach that women are "unclean" and therefore distasteful. One married man even asked Cardinalli's team "how his wife could become pregnant," her report said. When that was explained, he "reacted with disgust" and asked, "How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean?"

That helps explain why women are hidden away - and stoned to death if they are perceived to have misbehaved. Islamic law also forbids homosexuality. But the pedophiles explain that away. It's not homosexuality, they aver, because they aren't in love with their boys.

Addressing the loathsome mistreatment of Afghan women remains a primary goal for coalition governments, as it should be.

But what about the boys, thousands upon thousands of little boys who are victims of serial rape over many years, destroying their lives - and Afghan society.

"There's no issue more horrifying and more deserving of our attention than this," Cardinalli said. "I'm continually haunted by what I saw."

As one boy, in tow of a man he called "my lord," told the Reuters reporter: "Once I grow up, I will be an owner, and I will have my own boys."

Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and is a former Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times.

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The Children of Asadabad

1 comment:

  1. Kabul Urged To Protect Sexually Abused Children

    by Dan Wisniewski Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty February 11, 2013

    A 13-year-old boy has been jailed for having sex in a park with two adult men, the latest case of a victim of a sexual crime being punished in Afghanistan.

    In October 2012, the boy was convicted of having sex with the men in a park in the western province of Herat and sentenced to a year in juvenile detention.

    As Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports, Afghan law prohibits "pederasty," commonly understood to mean sex between a man and a boy, and makes it a crime punishable by five to 15 years in prison. "Moral crimes" include not only pederasty but any sexual relations between people who are not married to each other, and have been used to punish the victim of a crime.

    "When a man has sex with a 13-year-old child, the child is a victim of rape, not a criminal offender," says Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director. "The Afghan government should never have victimized this boy a second time, but instead should have released him immediately with urgent protection and assistance."

    HRW quoted a prosecutor involved in the case as saying that the boy was prosecuted because he said he had consented to sex with several men. The men were also arrested and charged with moral crimes, but the outcomes of their cases are not known.

    As the number of street children in Afghanistan has grown, more and more children are exposed to the risk of sexual abuse. HRW has urged the Afghan government to raise the legal age of consent to protect children and to expand the law passed in 2009 on violence against women -- which defined rape as a crime for the first time -- to include men and boys.

    "Afghan lawmakers should move forward promptly in revising the penal code to provide better protection for both victims and criminal suspects," Adams says. "The revision should ensure that rape is seen as a serious crime, whether committed against men and boys or women and girls, and that victims are not treated as criminals."

    HRW also called attention to the practice of "bacha bazi," where young boys work as dancers to entertain groups of men. As women and girls are not permitted to entertain men, the boys are often dressed in women's clothing and subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.

    "The Afghan government needs to take urgent steps to protect children from sexual assault, including boys who are abused through the practice of bacha bazi," Adams says. "Treating boys who have been raped as criminals undermines all government efforts to protect children from abuse."

    The previously taboo subject of rape and sexual abuse has slowly emerged as a topic of public debate in the deeply conservative country. Media coverage of two rape cases in the northern Takhar and Sari Pol provinces in 2010, where girls as young as 11 were gang raped, prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to meet with the victims and their families. He promised to crack down on rape and bring the attackers to justice.

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