The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan

Dancing, boys, portrait
Image: Vasily Vereshchagin/ Public Domain
In Afghanistan, small boys are used as sex slaves of older men. The documentary, Dancing boys of Afghanistan, reveals all.

The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan will show you a different side of the Afghani warlord. By day and night, hardened commanders and former mujahideen enjoy freedoms they did not have under the Taliban. They sell imported automobiles and drink soft drinks. But in private gatherings, often held at night, they engage in the old practice of recruiting and making young boys their personal sex slaves.

Bacha Bazi – or ‘boy play’ – was banned by the Taliban, but implementing the ban was difficult considering its popularity. Every warlord had to have one. At night, young boys dance to increasingly drunken audiences – one of whom gets to take the boy home and sodomize him. They are recruited as early as the age of 11, but can find their ‘careers’ snuffed out by 18. Nobody wants a dancing man.

Afghanistan’s elected government has technically outlawed the practice, but execution is flimsy – in one scene, the police drive a former commander home along with his boy toy for the night.

The documentary has a set of unapologetic interviews with the boy’s many masters. All are candid accounts, by people who wouldn’t blink twice before raping a young child – and killing them when they’re too old to be entertaining. The only interviewee who was not candid was a 11-year-old boy himself who was whispered a series of curt answers to give the interviewer by his master.

You can tell that the filmmaker and journalist, Najibullah Quraishi, is strongly opposed to the practice. His line of questioning is designed to make the subjects think deeply about what it is they’re doing to the children. His front for shooting the documentary was that he was doing a story on a similar practice in Europe. Perhaps it made the child slavers feel like they weren’t under attack.

Everyone has their own way of legitimizing the practice. An old man said, against the impossibly beautiful backdrop of Afghanistan’s rural landscape:

If they want sex, there’s no problem. Many boys want sex.

A government official fears for his life to even talk about it – and so little to nothing is done from their end.

In his interviews, Quraishi is eye to eye with people who wouldn’t blink twice to sodomize a small boy for the sake of their ‘prestige’ – and kill them once they’re too old to be entertaining. He captures Afghanistan’s living monsters head on, and candidly, as they discuss the industry of dancing boys.

Owning a young boy has become a badge of honour in a society where access to women is restricted, but where young boys are easily accessible.

The film shows us the spiral of the human condition – one dancing boy resolves to own his own cohort of boys once he turns 20, perhaps with the same heartlessness they witnessed in their own masters.

But it also shows us a spiral of hope. One of the boys, a 11-year-old named Shafeeq, is saved from the pimps after a troubling sequence of events – where he was as good as sold to a pimp after a false interview with a person posing as his father. Quraishi managed to use his network to rescue the boy and help his family move somewhere far away – and covered in snow. In an interview, Shafeeq no longer sounds as scared as he did before, with rehearsed answers. He now wants to become a doctor, and help other kids in his situation.

Throughout the film, you can see the indifference of the Afghan state to the plight of its young children. They take up these jobs largely for the money, but it can be hard to say no to a warlord with an army and legal impunity at his command. It ends on a slightly optimistic note – showing the United Nations as the only institution where someone actually speaks out against the practice.

Dancing Boys of Afghanistan tells the heartbreaking story of Afghanistan’s dancing boys to the world – though it was long known to the populace. Since then, a slew of documentaries and stories have been written on it. Judging by recent coverage, it remains an untreated, persisting phenomena in Afghanistan.

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