Modern slavery, also known as human trafficking, is present and prevalent in today’s world. As stated by the International Labour Organization, upwards of 20 million individuals are in forced labor around the world, and globally, $150 billion is generated each year. A report from the United Nations states that women and children make up 70% of all trafficking victims. Traffickers are also proceeding to adapt to changing times, for they have started taking advantage of high-speed Internet access to more efficiently continue exploiting victims for monetary gain(FloresOebanda).
There are so many victims and so few traffickers convicted for their crimes. Although human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery that infects even the greatest of the world’s countries, Afghanistan, with its political and religious instability, is especially susceptible to pressures of its conflict immersed culture. There are various forms of human trafficking that are present and prevalent in Afghanistan today, including bacha bazi, a specific form of sexual exploitation that dates back centuries and continues to plague modern Afghanistan culture.
Human trafficking in Afghanistan is defined most often by men, women, and children who are victims of forced labor and sexual exploitation. A vast majority of Afghan victims are children who are forced into factory work, domestic servitude, begging, and drug smuggling. Nearly all victims who are forced into construction and agricultural labor sectors are boys under age 18 who may also be subject to being used for suicide attacks and theft. In addition to forced labor, sexual exploitation is a common form of child trafficking.
It is not uncommon for families to knowingly sell their children into forced prostitution, forced marriage, and other forms of sexual slavery. Both forced prostitution and forced marriage can be a family’s way to settle conflicts with other families, reduce dowry costs, or reduce debt within the household. There appears to be a connection between prostitution and forced marriage, for it is generally girls who are affected (see figure 1). Figure 1. Arranged marriage in Afghanistan, from Stephanie Clare. JPG file.
Samuel Hall, an independent research and strategic consulting firm, released a study that found 8 out of 13 girls were forced into marriage and then subjected to forced prostitution later on. Under the conflicted Afghan government, trafficking victims have been regularly prosecuted and found as guilty criminals for moral crimes, and the government continues to be unsuccessful at holding a vast majority of traffickers criminally responsible for their offenses(“Highlights”, “Refworld”). Bacha bazi, or boy play, is an age-old custom that dates back centuries and perha even thousands of years in Afghanistan.
Bacha bazi is the custom of adult males exploiting young boys as sexual partners. During the 1980s, when mujaheddin commanders were fighting Soviet forces, the practice became widespread because commanders became infamous for recruiting young boys while progressing through villages. In this practice, it is usually powerful and wealthy men who take advantage of vulnerable young boys by promising better opportunities for a higher quality of life. This is not the case. The reality is that boys are forced into a form of sexual slavery where they are kept around for entertainment and sexual exploitation purposes.
Boys are dressed in women’s clothing and taught to dance sensually for the pleasure of male audiences (see figure 2). After a performance, the boys are often taken home and sexually abused by their owner or his guests. Boys who become bachas are considered to be property. Children forced into this way of life are young teens and some 11 years old and younger. Bacha bazi was banned under Taliban regime(Londono, “One Million Voices”). D. B. Wurth, a child-protection expert at the U. N. mission in Afghanistan, stated “Like it or not, there was better rule of law under the Taliban.
They say it as a sin, and they stopped a lot of it. “(qtd. in Londono) During the time in which Taliban held power, men who were accused of having sexual relations with men or boys were executed for their sins(Londono). The practice of bacha bazi is still alive today in modern Afghanistan. The Taliban’s oppressive rule around the late 1990s caused the practice of bacha bazi to be moved underground. However, the fall of the Taliban government in 2001 revitalized the practice in Afghanistan, and according to Afghans who have studied bacha bazi or have even taken part in it, bacha bazi has continued to expand over the past decade.
Bacha bazi also remains a poorly understood issue in Afghanistan because there are no sound statistics to express the full extent of the practice. In fact, Afghan government officials, law enforcement, and judicial officials have a limited understanding of human trafficking in general. Although bacha bazi is illegal in Afghanistan, it is a rather open practice because it can be an expression of a man’s social status if he owns a “boy to play”.
Authorities are very aware of the practice, and there are even reports with possible evidence that various government officials partake in bacha bazi(Londono, “Refworld”). A lack of government enforcement is bringing about a culture where wealthy and powerful men completely disregard the law because they know they will not face consequences for their actions. Authorities knowingly turn a blind eye and fail to hold criminals accountable in part because some officials participate in what they are supposed to be eliminating.
It does not matter what the Afghan government does or does not do to hold criminals accountable because young boys continue to suffer. When the boys grow too old to be of pleasure to the men, they are thrown out, and many become prostitutes, pimps, or turn to drug and alcohol use. If a boy is able to escape and report to authorities, he will be the one to end up in prison. In Afghan society, if a boy is raped, abused, or sexually exploited in other ways, he will have to live with the shame of having been a bacha.
The boy will not be able to live proudly in society and will become a pariah, or outcast(Londono, “One Million Voices”). Bacha bazi is a specific form of sexual exploitation that dates back centuries and continues to plague modern Afghanistan culture, but it is just one form of human trafficking that is seen in Afghanistan and all over the world. These human trafficking practices are seen throughout even the most advanced countries, but Afghanistan is exceptionally vulnerable with its cultural and societal conflicts.
Men, women, and children are victims of sexual and labor exploitation, but bacha bazi is a specific form of sexual exploitation that preys on young Afghan boys. A lack of understanding of the practice and belief that the practice is morally acceptable is making it impossible for young Afghan individuals to live a life of freedom and happiness. Slavery has not been eradicated, for it has merely taken on new and terrible forms throughout the past and present. What will be the fate of the world’s future?