He sits down for a few minutes, gasping for breath. He has just wound down a song-and-dance routine, his feet are still tapping a rhythm to the beat that continues in his mind. His anklets jingle, his skirt is slowly settling around him. The men around him cheer and exchange shouts. They talk laughingly, and then there is a heated exchange. The men want to decide which of them would take the boy home for the night – and they each want the boy.
This is his reality. He is made to sing and dance, dressing like a woman. After his “performance”, he is taken home by one of the men who attend the performance, and is then used.
I sit watching the documentary put together by PBS and Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi, titled The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan. My hands are numb, my eyes are transfixed on the screen as wave after wave of young boys come and go, all victims in this disgusting game.
Nothing short of sexual slavery and child prostitution, Afghanistan’s young boys fall prey to the inappropriate and carnal entertainment needs of powerful and rich men in Afghanistan. As much as the Taliban comes down on women and their social involvement, it is shockingly involved in the ghastly form of organized abuse of little boys. It is an organized network – the supply and demand of and for these young boys is high, as it has grown to become something of a status symbol to “have a boy”. These young boys have dreams, ambitions, a hope for a better future. But instead, they are forced to live like sex slaves to men with bestial and monstrous proclivities. Their young faces are beset with the lines of age that their sufferings have brought to them: they have aged before their time. Some of them are forced, some simply know no better. Some are told that there isn’t anything more than this that they can do for their families to enjoy money. These little boys are as much a target of the dominance of parochial and patriarchal tendencies, as their female counterparts are.
I sit wondering how these men can do this to these little children. They are cherubic, even the most mischievous imp of them all. Their innocence is sacred: it is not a football to be kicked about in the mud.
I see a little boy on the screen. His face is blurred out for the need to preserving his identity a secret. But I see his little hands and feet. Those hands should hold a school book in them. Or a kite. Or the stolen fruit from a neighbour’s tree. Those feet should carry him as he cruises through against the wind in the hopes of escaping the catcher in a game of running-and-catching. Those feet should be taking him fast to a place he can hide in, until the seeker is tired of finding the hiding ones. But no. Those hands are slowly trying to tie anklets and to fasten a skirt. Those feet are busy pirouetting and twirling.
Welcome to the world of Bacha-baazi, as this game is called, in Afghanistan. Welcome to the Game where no matter who plays or wins, innocence always loses.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, Hassan’s words in Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner, in a letter to Amir, rolls over: “I dream that my son will grow up to be a good person, a free person. I dream that someday you will return to revisit the land of our childhood. I dream that flowers will bloom in the streets again and kites will fly in the skies.”