The FAM: Frontline: The Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan

Welcome to the first FAM of 2011, as we pick up after the Bacchanalia that saw us sputtering and wheezing like an overweight asthmatic through the last few weeks of the previous year. In celebration of its (not so) triumphant return we offer you the greatest gift a FAM can give its reader. I speak, of course, of Frontline. You may say that last bit is a matter of opinion, but as a Frontline junkie I would counter that, no, you are wrong. Then I might, perhaps, throw in a dig about your mother. But seeing as we are in polite company I will allow you your obviously wrongheaded perceptions and get onto the video linked above.

“The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”, a report filed by Afghan journalist Najibullah Quraishi and originally broadcast on April 20, 2010, examines the re-emergence of an ancient Afghan custom known as “bacha bazi” — literally “boy play” or “playing with boys”— in which boys as young as 11, mostly from the poorest segments of Afghan society, are purchased from families or taken off the street by their “masters” who dress them in women’s clothing and train them to sing and dance for the entertainment of wealthy and powerful men. According to experts, they are also used as sexual slaves.

Quraishi does an amazing job in this piece, gaining an impressive level of access to some of the people involved in this illicit trade, uncovering a world mired in corruption and abject poverty. It makes for a fascinating but horrific documentary. Most importantly, and most uplifting, is Quraishi’s valiant attempts to save a young boy purchased by his contact Dastager. It may very well represent a breach in separation of reporter and subject but it is impossible to fault him for doing something so noble and represents, at least, a modicum of justice.

As mentioned, the practice had died out for many years, or at least dug itself further underground, but has re-emerged. The reason for this remains unexplained but the practice does relate to one, recent event. On December 2, 2010 the Guardian published an article related to a US Embassy cable from June 24, 2009, made public by Wikileaks. The cable details a meeting between Assistant Ambassador Mussomeli and Minister of Interior Hanif Atmar regarding an incident that took place in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan in April of that year. The event, as it is referred to in the document, led to the arrests of two Afghan National Police and nine other Afghans, including an undisclosed number of DynCorp language assistants. DynCorp is a private, US contractor tasked with training Afghan police. Atmar was hoping to charge them with “purchasing a service from a child,” but was also concerned that the release of video of the incident would become public, urging US officials to “quash” the story.

Interestingly, as the Houston Press’s John Nova Lomax pointed out on December 7th, DynCorp has a bit of a history with this kind of thing:

As we mentioned, this isn’t DynCorp’s first brush with the sex-slavery game. Back in Bosnia in 1999, US policewoman Kathryn Bolkovac was fired from DynCorp after blowing the whistle on a sex-slave ring operating on one of our bases there. DynCorp’s employees were accused of raping and peddling girls as young as 12 from countries like Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. The company was forced to settle lawsuits against Bolkovac (whose story was recently told in the feature film The Whistleblower) and another man who informed authorities about DynCorp’s sex ring.

It is a terrible practice to be sure, one that, overall, Afghan authorities seem to be unwilling to acknowledge, let alone stamp out. Thankfully, the issue has been given some media coverage since Quraishi’s Frontline episode. Hopefully with increased scrutiny comes a change to that indifference.

2 Responses to “The FAM: Frontline: The Dancing Boys Of Afghanistan”

  1. monkey Says:

    Wow. I remember watching this on TV and feeling the need to watch something ridiculous afterwards, just to squash the depression from what I had just seen The added Wikileaks info adds an even more disturbing level. Excuse me while I go look for something ridiculous on TV to cheer me up after this FAM.

  2. Larissa Says:

    Heartbreaking. I just want to protect every single child from abuse. How can anyone hurt innocent children? I can’t help but think of Bill Zeller’s suicide letter and how even though Quraishi helped the boy escape, he will have so much trauma to deal with.