In a piece called Afghanistan's dirty little secret for the San Francisco Chronicle on the weekend, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joel Brinkley explores the practice of bacha baz, or bazi: what seems like a pretty systemic situation where older, more powerful men sexually abuse young boys ages 9-15.
"Sociologists and anthropologists say the problem results from a perverse interpretation of Islamic law," writes Brinkley. "Women are simply unapproachable. Afghan men cannot talk to an unrelated woman until after proposing marriage. Before then, they can't even look at a woman, except perhaps her feet. Otherwise, she is covered, head to ankle."
This piece, which ran on Sunday, is based around a report by the social scientist AnnaMaria Cardinalli, who was hired by the US Defense Department to investigate the phenomenon. Earlier this year the PBS programme Frontline sent an Afghan journalist, Najibullah Quraishi, to report on the issue. He came back with The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, which aired on April 20.
"It's a form of slavery, taking a child, keeping him," said Radhika Coomaraswamy, a UN special representative for children and armed conflict, in the piece. "It's a form of sexual slavery."
Commenters on the sites and Facebook are all "this is who we are protecting in Afghanistan?" and I get that. One even called for the Taliban back, arguing they had successfully outlawed the practice.
It's important to remember sexual abuse of both sexes by both sexes occurs in every country – even Canada and the UAE. And I am sure if you live in Afghanistan, it's all a lot more complicated than these two reports can convey. It's pretty hard, however, not to get the impression from these surface reports that there is something entirely different going here.