It was only after the Taliban, the reigning clan of Islamic warlords that had terrorized Afghanistan since 1996, fell in 2001 that the stories of their most brutal oppression came to light. While the Taliban had tasked the terrorist organization al-Qaeda with developing its military defense, the real war it was waging had been concealed: a war on women.
In one sense, sex trafficking everywhere is classifiably a “war on women.” To the uninitiated, the UN’s definition of human trafficking may seem cumbersome, a laundry list of qualifications and contingencies. Why not just say “slavery”? A global survey of the many faces of human trafficking, and sex trafficking in particular, demonstrates that the modern face of slavery is anything but monolithic, and a wide net must be cast in order to rightly include every possible victimization, every front of this war of abuse and degradation. One prominent haven of such degradation, the Afghan capital of Kabul, demonstrates a nuance not found in any other region of the earth.
Since Afghanistan is largely broken up into Islamic fiefdoms, the control of the capital has major influence on the culture of the country. Ousting the Taliban and driving them into Pakistan meant that room could finally be made for a top-down democracy that upheld the rights of the poor and oppressed. Part of the reason the conflict has lasted more than ten years (and counting) is that a premature withdrawal of allied forces would leave a vacuum of power that could easily be filled again by Taliban violence. Most of the world might not care or even notice, but the world never has been quick to heed the abuse of its most vulnerable people groups. If women are to find refuge anywhere in Afghanistan, Kabul must maintain a democratic concern for the weak and marginalized; in short, for women and children.
Human trafficking in Afghanistan, a traditional Islamic culture, is not the egregious deception of false job offers in Chisinau; nor is it the generational poverty of Mumbai; nor the chronic fatherlessness of New York City or the outright collapse of a country at war, as was the case in Juba, Sudan. Though Afghanistan may share similarities with any or all of those, its chief problem is a comprehensive cultural subjugation of women to the rule of men, an abuse in and of itself, but one that leads to even greater abuses.
One of the most striking features of human trafficking in Afghanistan is the overwhelming number of child brides. According to a study by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), over 80 percent of trafficking victims were underage brides, and half of that group were married off by the age of 15 or younger.
Poverty plays a key role in the giving of child brides. Wealthy older men may offer a handsome “bride-sum” for a young girl, and her father, once he has “married her off,” then has one less mouth to feed. In 2005, a video was released to the AIHRC that showed a thirteen-year-old bride, who had escaped from her forced marriage after refusing to consummate it with her new husband, receiving forty lashes upon being returned to the man by the authorities. Both underage marriages and beatings are illegal in Afghanistan, but that made little difference in a country governed largely by provincial warlords.
Unfortunately, Western forces that are supposedly trying to liberate the country often become part of the problem. If there is a sad but common refrain of military personnel taking advantage of those they profess to protect, that trend has only been further accentuated by the advent of privatized military security forces. These “mercenaries” are even more out of sight and out of mind of government scrutiny and, as a result, have been making headline news for nearly ten years for abuses and alleged war crimes. One of the more flagrant violations in Kabul came from a non-government paramilitary group contracted out by the US State Department to provide security for the US Embassy in Kabul, ArmorGroup North America.
In 2009, a suit was filed against ArmorGroup related to the frequenting of brothels known to house victims of human trafficking by members of ArmorGroup. Buying sex from women known to have been trafficked is a clear violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. At one point during the development of corrective actions, a process that unfolded over several years, an ArmorGroup trainee was alleged to have been reported for bragging about the human trafficking operations there, and boasting of the “opportunity” to actually purchase a woman for $20,000 and begin making a profit himself. No serious repercussions were faced by any member of ArmorGroup, even though copious evidence was produced; but make no mistake, deviant sexual practices are not new to the warlord culture of Afghanistan.
One of the more disturbing trends of effete Afghani warlords is actually making a resurgence—the practice of Bacha Bazi. Bacha Bazi, literally “playing with children,” is the practice of dressing underage boys in women’s clothing to dance for private parties of wealthy and influential Afghani men. While the practice is thought to be dead, outlawed by Islamic law, and publicly decried by authorities, it nonetheless persists. At the end of the night of dancing, the boy is generally sold for sex to the highest bidder. If this concept presses the credulity of the reader, videos of the scene—a roomful of men utterly transfixed by a twelve-year-old boy, dressed in flowing silk and jewelry, leaping and twirling—do nothing to aid comprehension.
The only thing more devastating is the allegations that another privatized military group, DynCorp, has been involved in the selling and transporting of Bacha Bazi. This only serves to underscore that while a democratic government is needed to protect liberties, even those forces that are being used to establish such freedoms are as sinful as the culture they look to replace. Submission to Christ is the only path to liberation.
Pray for the establishment of a righteous government in Kabul that will champion the case of the poor, marginalized, and oppressed (women and children).
Pray for privatized military groups to be exposed if they are truly taking advantage of the people they seek to serve.
Pray for a revival in Kabul that will usher Afghanistan into an age of freedom: political freedom, gender freedom, and spiritual freedom—from sin and all of its consequences.