Daily Mail: Afghanistan has long been considered one of the most religious countries in the world: a place where men and women follow Islamic doctrine carefully
But behind the devout exterior, the country is hiding a dark secret – one which the government has tried to sweep under the rug.
Bacha bazi, which translate as ‘boy play’, is on the surface a harmless form of entertainment – young boys dancing for the entertainment of their elders.
In reality, it is often little more than sex slavery, where boys as young as 10 are passed around a group of middle aged men for their own sexual gratification.
Boys like Shukur, who was just 12 when he was stolen away from his family and made to be a ‘bacha bereesh’. It took him five years to escape, and he now uses the dances he learned to make a living.
He is luckier than most.
Afghanistan’s poverty has been a driving force in the rise of bacha bazi in the last 15 years. It makes it easy for predators to prowl the streets targeting ‘pretty’ young boys, enticing them from their families with promises of work or education.
These promises more often than not come to nothing: instead, the boys are trained as dancers, made to perform to groups of men dressed as girls, bells on their flowing skirts and make up on the faces.
They command the attention of the room as they move to the traditional songs, with words which do more than hint at what is to come.
‘He’s touching the boy with his cotton clothes,’ a musician sang on the 2009 documentary, The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan.
‘Where do you live, so I can get to know your father.
‘Oh boy, you have set your lover on fire.’
Once the party is over, and the dancing has finished, the true horror of their role is revealed.
Then the boys are passed between the men, taken to hotel rooms where they can be sexually abused.
‘The boys don’t earn anything from the parties,’ explained photographer Barat Ali Batoor, who spent months winning the boys’ trust and documenting their lives,
‘But they live as though they are in a relationship with their masters, so their masters keep them, house them and buy them food and things.
‘They have sex with their masters and then at the parties they are abused by different people.’
It is said one of the country’s favourite sayings is women are for children, boys are for pleasure.
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