Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Child Sex Abuse Alarm

Authorities say they haven’t the resources to deal with worrying increase in paedophilia in the provinces.
By IWPR Afghanistan

One of the darker sides of Afghan society - sex between men and under-age boys - is quietly reemerging in some parts of the country after it was made a capital offence by the Taleban, according to local people in two provinces close to the resources.

Residents of Parwan and Kapisa provinces just north of Kabul report that it is quite common for local men, particularly military commanders, to take boys as young as 14 to wedding parties and other celebrations, to get them to dance and, in some cases, have sex with them.

Abdul Marouf, from Parwan province, told IWPR, "This is quite common here. Some days ago I went to a wedding party where the singer of the band they had invited was a boy of around 14, who was very good-looking.

"While he was singing a number of armed men entered the hall, and one of them ordered the boy to dance, and the band to accompany him. The singer looked scared and started crying, insisting that he could not dance, but they threatened to kill him. After he had danced for some time they took him away with them."

Marouf said some local commanders competed among themselves to keep the best-looking boy, after luring them with gifts of cigarettes, new clothes and shoes and invitations to watch pornographic videos. "They use these boys as their slaves," he added.

A film-maker in Kapisa province, who declined to give his name, told IWPR, "One night some armed men came to my house and wanted me to film their celebrations. As it was late, I made my apologies, but they forced me to go to their party.

"When I got there I saw a very nice-looking boy dancing. The party continued throughout the night and I had to film everything they did with that boy. What I witnessed were not the actions of human beings.

"After they finished they took the film cassette from me and let me go."

Despite the deep conservatism of Afghan society, and the strict observance of Islam among its people, there is reported to be something of a tradition of homosexuality in some parts of the country - particularly in Kandahar in the south, close to the Pakistani border - even though it is banned by both Afghan and Islamic law.

According to western press reports during and following the collapse of the Taleban, the swift rise to power and influence of its leader Mullah Omar was partly due to his intervention in a violent dispute between two commanders over a boy.

Appeals began coming in for Omar to intervene in other disputes, and his reputation grew swiftly.

During the Taleban rule, men accused of sexually abusing boys were punished by having a wall toppled on them by a tank – which almost always resulted in death.

The recurrence of such practices, along with other cases of child abuse and exploitation, prompted local officials and some international welfare organisations to hold a recent seminar aimed at raising public awareness over the rights of children.

According to Sadiqa Shahbaz, one of the lecturers at the seminar in Chariker town in central Parwan province, there was so little awareness of children's rights that after discussions with the education ministry it had been decided to include the subject in the school syllabus.

Ghulam Hazrat, of the international charity Children in Crisis, told IWPR, "We have many reports of violence against children, and their rights are not respected. The government does not pay enough attention to the issue and is only interested in international financial aid.

“But in our view the rights of children are paramount, and should be protected, otherwise they will become victims of violence or will be led astray."

Some local people in Parwan and Kapisa provinces blamed the brutalising effect of 23 years of war for what they see as a breakdown in traditional society.

"I think the civil war in Afghanistan has created an unsafe and unhealthy environment," said Abdul Waheed of Parwan province. "In particular no attention is paid to the rights of children. I have seen youngsters being repeatedly beaten in the streets by their parents. All that happens is they leave home and quickly get into trouble."

Jawad, a shopkeeper in the Jabal-e-Saraj district of Parwan, also called for more restraint and understanding by parents, saying, "Children driven out of the home by their parents take to the streets, where they are picked up by people for servants or for their sexual needs. They get to a point where they are so infected by bad habits that they can't go back to their homes even if their parents plead for them to do so."

Another Parwan resident, Sayed Habib, believes that children in families with two wives, a common practice in this Islamic society, are sometimes mistreated. "The children are deprived of the affection of their parents and seek refuge elsewhere."

Responding to the reports of sexual abuse of children in Parwan and Kapisa, Abdul Jalil Khan, head of the children's crime department in the interior ministry in Kabul, told IWPR, "We have done a lot in this regard to save children from such immoral behaviour, even to the point of trying to prevent them from watching pornographic films showing illegally in Kabul."

"However our activities are confined only to Kabul, we haven't enough funds or staff to help children in the provinces."

Ahmad Hanayesh is a freelance journalist based in Parwan province.