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Afghanistan’s Child Sexual Abuse Complicity Problem

Afghan Military’s Sexual Exploitation of Boys Persists

An Afghan military honor guard waits to greet U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis upon his arrival to meet Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan April 24, 2017.  © 2017 Reuters

A United States government oversight agency has slammed Afghan government officials for active complicity in the “in the sexual exploitation and recruitment of children by Afghan security forces.”

In its most recent quarterly report, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) criticized the Afghan government for failing to adequately protect boy victims of sexual abuse known as bacha bazi.

Bacha bazi, which translates as “boy play,” refers to boys who work as dancers, performing at parties attended by men, and typically living under the protection of a military commander or other patron. Afghan culture typically prohibits women or girls from dancing for a male audience. While their role as entertainers can be innocent, in many instances these boys are also the victims of sexual assault and abuse.

The SIGAR report said the Afghan government has failed to adequately assist bacha bazi victims and that is resulting in the “arrest and prosecution” of boys who have been victims of that abuse. These abuses continue despite President Ashraf Ghani’s June 2016 pledge of “thorough investigation and immediate action” of bacha bazi abuse by military personnel.

Ghani has not delivered on promises announced in February to criminalize bacha bazi. In April, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres urged the Afghan government in his Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence to “ adopt legislation to criminalize bachah bazi (sp).” The government has yet to respond.

The government’s failure to stamp out bacha bazi abuses within the military may take a toll on US assistance to elements of the Afghan security forces implicated in such violations. The report notes that SIGAR has recently produced “a classified evaluation” of the US Department of Defense and State Department’s “implementation of the Leahy laws for Afghanistan,” in reference to US rules that limit support to military implicated in human rights abuses. The report concerns “allegations of sexual abuse of children committed by members of the Afghan security forces, reviews guidance on Leahy Laws implementation, and discusses the extent to which the U.S. holds Afghan security forces accountable.”

The US government’s bankrolling of the Afghan government and military forces give it unique leverage to demand an end to such abuses by criminalizing such violations and ensuring that perpetrators are brought to justice. If not, a legacy of the US government reconstruction effort in Afghanistan will be impunity for child sexual abuse rather than rule of law.

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