• Athena Ives

Bacha Bazi: The invisible sex slaves of Afghanistan

By Athena Ives

31 October, 2021

In 2018, a report was released by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) highlighting 5,753 occasions from 2010-2016 where the U.S. military reported “gross human rights abuses” by the Afghan military, many of which were cases of child sexual abuse (Nordland, 2018). In 2001, the U.S. State Department released their Trafficking in Persons Report and gave Afghanistan a Tier 3 status (the lowest status) citing one of the main reasons for this status: the common practice of Bacha Bazi. Bacha Bazi is a slang term in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan for a custom created in Afghanistan involving child sexual abuse between older men and young adolescent males or boys. Although this practice is illegal, it often takes place under the protection of the military or other armed militias. During their investigation, the State Department found a “Government pattern of sexual slavery in government compounds, and the recruitment and use of child soldiers (Department, 2021). The U.S. law requires military aid to be cut off due to these violations, this never happened.

This report, that was commissioned during the Obama administration, was deemed “so explosive” it was marked “Secret/NoForeign” and was recommended to be sealed until June 9, 2042 (Nordland, 2018). The report that was released in 2018, was heavily redacted. Former Special Forces Officer Capt. Dan Quinn heard about a young boy that had been chained to the bed of an Afghan commander as a sex slave. After finding credible evidence, Capt. Quinn beat up the commander and physically threw him out of the camp. He stated “We were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did” (Nordland, 2018). Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, a highly decorated Green Beret, also beat up and Afghan local police commander for raping a child. Marland was kicked out of the military for his actions but was later reinstated after a Congressional investigation (Nordland, 2018).

Bacha Bazi is the practice of sexual slavery of prepubescent boys usually ages 10 until they begin to grow a beard. It translates into English as “boy play” and is commonly referred to as “lover boy” and “chai boy” (Prey & Spears, 2021). These boys are often kidnapped or coerced and forced to dress like women, wear makeup and put on shows for males in a form of an auction. According to Sabet (2020) owning and sleeping with more than one boy was seen as a display of power and wealth. According to a doctor that treated Bacha Bazi victims, warlords are allowed, and many did, have up to 10 boys. They are forced to dance and sexually satisfy male customers, mostly powerful men and military members (Sabet, 2020). In 2020 Afghanistan’s Attorney General launched an investigation after over 500 young boys were raped in the Logar province. They found a Facebook page featuring over 100 videos of Child Sexual Abuse Material shared by school staff and parliament members in six different schools (Staff, 2020).

According to reporters from The Independent, Bacha Bazi is not considered homosexual or un-Islamic act, because the men do not love the boys and it is “far more ethical than defiling a woman” (Staff, 2020). One Bacha Bazi victim stated “It is so acceptable that even the police would be sat among men cheering the boys on; everyone enjoys the dance parties, and no one raises their voices against this practice” (Sabet, 2020). In areas of Afghanistan where gender segregation is enforced, Bacha Bazi is more common (Staff, 2020). We constantly hear about the plight of the women in Afghanistan, but the victims of Bacha Bazi are rarely talked about. The extreme segregation of women directly impacts these boys and we must not ignore this horrific abuse!


Department, U. S. (2021). 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report Afghanistan . Retrieved from https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-trafficking-in-persons-report/afghanistan/

Nordland, R. (2018, January 27). The New York Times . Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/23/world/asia/afghanistan-military-abuse.html

Prey, E., & Spears, K. (2021, June 24). What About the Boys: A Gendered Analysis of the U.S. Withdrawal and Bacha Bazi in Afghnistan. Retrieved from Newlines Institute: https://newlinesinstitute.org/afghanistan/what-about-the-boys-a-gendered-analysis-of-the-u-s-withdrawal-and-bacha-bazi-in-afghanistan/

Sabet, Z. (2020, May 26). Shame and Silence: Bacha Bazi in Afghanistan. Retrieved from Geopolitical Monitor: https://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/shame-and-silence-bacha-bazi-in-afghanistan/

Staff, T. W. (2020, January 29). Bacha Bazi: The Scandal of Afghanistan's Abused Boys. Retrieved from The Week : https://www.theweek.co.uk/105442/bacha-bazi-the-scandal-of-afghanistan-s-abused-boys