Bacha baazi is a centuries old tradition in Afghanistan. The practice begins with older men, wealthier men who either buy the young boys from poor families in need of income or simply just take them from the streets. These men become the young boys’ “master”, who more often than not is married and they decide to either own the boy or keep them to serve as their concubines. These men see the young boys as their property; they are used, abused, and sold upon their owner’s command. The owner’ boy is seen as a status symbol; the elite try and find the youngest and most handsome boy. The young boys, aged eight to nineteen, are then taken to begin their training in singing and dancing to musical instruments. Once they have completed their training, they are taken to wear makeup and dress like girls and perform what they have practiced for their “master’s” guests. After the boy dances, he is either auctioned off to the highest bidder or is given to the men to share so as to perform sexual acts for them. This practice can be considered by many to be modern-day slavery.
While the physical exploitation is sure to be a traumatizing experience for the young boys in and of itself, the eventual “disposal” of these young victims is yet another devastating experience. As these young boys near the age of adulthood, they are no longer needed or wanted as their exploiters seek younger replacements. After years of sexual exploitation, reintegrating into society is one of the greatest challenges these young boys face.
With such immense commitment and dedication to education, Children in Crisis is particularly well-equipped to address and aid in the occurrence of bacha baazi. Just as this organization seeks to reform community and society through education, so too can it expand upon its principle of education with the inclusion of bacha baazi victims and perpetrators. The very same three initiatives that Children in Crisis pursues could very easily be adapted to bacha baazi. However, of primary importance is the protection of bacha baazi victims. As Children in Crisis already maintains several community education centers, and intends to continue building them, building a community education center solely for bacha baazi victims could and would be crucial to their mental health and reintegration into society. With such a community education center, these young boys would be among people that could provide them with the comfort and safety that they so desperately need. While they will be cared for and educated by trained professionals, they will even more importantly, be among victims like themselves. Such an environment will nurture the continued development of these young boys, seeking particularly to communicate the importance that the events they endured was not at all by any fault of their own. In addition to this especially important statement, it is equally important to further educate these young boys about the realities of bacha baazi – to discuss the reasons why these young boys became involved in such a dangerous way of life, how they were enticed to do so, and the subsequent fall-outs. However, when engaging in such a dialogue, it is crucial that it is conducted in a primarily educational manner, so as to not belittle the victims.
While the importance of open dialogue cannot be disputed, it cannot stand on its own. It is necessary that these young boys take steps to resume a “normal” life, and to once again be a part of society. Therefore, it is essential that these young boys take part in an educational program, thereby promoting a sense of “oneness” with other children and peers. With an environment balanced with the presence of trained professionals, boys and young men who suffered through similar experiences, these victims should within due time be able to slowly integrate into society and resume an “ordinary” life. Aside from individual attention, focus, and education, it is important to reach beyond the victims of bacha baazi to then include general members of the community. If it is communicated to people the true importance of protecting a country’s children, and respecting not only children’s rights, but human rights in general, an eventual reformation of society is inevitable. The committing of such egregious acts cannot always be solely attributed to the malicious character of a person, but can also be in part due to a lack of education and understanding. As Children in Crisis already pursues the training of community members regarding child rights, the incidence of bacha baazi should especially be included. Turning a blind eye to the occurrence of bacha baazi is not at all the approach that should be taken when the safety and security of children are concerned, and on a larger scale, the development and stability of a community, society, and country.
Little is known about the history of bacha baazi, but many assume that the occurrence of bacha baazi is simply a matter of culture, and therefore a difference in culture. Subsequently, with this either real or supposed difference in culture, its incidence is very rarely addressed. People rather easily assume that they are not in a position to address or aid in the occurrence of bacha baazi – that it simply is not their place to intervene in such a culturally sensitive matter. With such a strongly formed preconceived notion in mind, there is very little hope for the reduction and hopeful elimination of bacha baazi. While it is certainly important to respect cultural differences, there is also a greater need to protect the rights of a child and person when a government or country cannot. In an increasingly globalized era, in an era when the ability to empathize with a person across the world is so much more profound, the continued egregious acts against the rights of a child and human are all the more detestable. This, however, is also an era and time when people, organizations, and governmental entities are all the more capable of providing aid, whether it be monetary or humanitarian, to those less able. A mere military presence in a country does not constitute aid; therefore, regardless of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan, the country is in need of greater help – a different form of help. While military and governmental assistance are certainly necessary and welcome, it is also important to be aware of the geography and culture of the nation. People who live outside of Kabul are very rarely influenced by government policies, very rarely are they aware of events that occur outside of their community. Incidentally, even those who do live in Kabul are often unaffected by government policies. Afghanistan’s form of government and governance are rather fragmented, with very little influence outside of government institutions, much less across the country. Due to this very fragmented state of nature, the individual community is emphasized as the primary form of governance. It is with this realization that Children in Crisis has implemented initiatives and movements to reform the country, beginning with the community.