“Boy Play” — An Illegal but Long-Standing Tradition

Bacha Bazi — also known as 'boy play' — in Afghanistan is the practice of selling young boys to wealthy men for sexual purposes. The boys are made to dress as women, dance, sing and perform for their masters and masters' friends as well as be subjected to rape and other sexual demands. This has been a long standing tradition in the Afghan culture for hundreds of years. Yes it has been made illegal, but the act goes largely overlooked due to its deep cultural roots.


The more handsome the boy, the greater the status of the owner. Bacha Bazi brings to light many issues that cross dangerous lines – whose culture is 'right'?; what harm is there really if the boys are well cared for and truly loved by their masters?; how many boys are being subject to this practice when so much attention is given to girls and women at their plight in the grand scheme of slavery?

In a country that has been declared 'homophobic', it is affrontingly ironic that such archaic methods of exploitation would still be employed. Does every Afghan citizen approve of Bacha Bazi? No. As stated earlier, the country overall has declared the custom illegal. So why is it still happening? The silence is keeping thousands of young boys in bondage to older men who not only abuse them, but determine their future sexual orientation and identity. How many 8 year old boys do you know would be able to have a healthy view of sexuality when all they've been forced to do is dance in women's clothing, wear women's makeup, and perform sexual acts on grown men? These boys become a class unto themselves — bacha bereesh — or "men without beards". It is a societal label that is impossible to erase.

Bacha Bazi brings to light the issue of CULTURE. Every single person is an organic part of an ever-changing culture through many different roots. We may think that this is an abhorrent act but for Afghans participating in an ancient tradition, there is pride, righteousness, and even love. How far can acts like this go under the guise of 'culture'? Child brides and arranged marriages would be other examples of such tender issues, just to give boy play some context.

The sad thing is (amongst the rest of this sadness) is that many boys will eventually become masters. Like many other examples in the modern-slave cycle, the abused become the abusers. How else would you know how to live?

Having said all this, Canadians really have no re-course in terms of condemnation. We have strict laws about protecting our children here at home and the children of other countries. Yet we seem rather complacent and contentedly lax in not prosecuting men who travel to foreign countries for the strict purpose of child sex tourism. If we are going to help the children of Afghanistan, we had better begin by taking responsibility for our own people.

Check out the CNN report below:



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