What’s life like for LGBTQ people in Afghanistan?
War-torn Afghanistan is a dangerous part of the world for everyone that lives there, but LGBTQ people face additional challenges.
Is homosexuality legal in Afghanistan?
While Sharia law continues to be applied in some of the more remote parts of Afghanistan, there is a civil-law Penal Code that is the primary rule of law.
The provisions of the Penal Code that can be applied to homosexuality are not particularly clear.
In practice, men prosecuted for same-sex sexual encounters are likely to be imprisoned.
Homosexuality is seen as a taboo subject, and something that goes against the Islamic religion which is the official religion of Afghanistan.
Is there any legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Afghanistan?
Unsurprisingly, there is no legal recognition of same-sex relationships in Afghanistan. Where the law specifically addresses marriage and relationships, it defines these as being between a man and a woman.
Are there any discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in Afghanistan?
Because of the criminalisation of homosexuality, and the socially-conservative nature of Afghan society, there are no protections available to people on the basis of sexuality.
The contradiction of prostitution
While homosexuality is taboo, there is a history of younger men being used as prostitutes – or dancing boys – to satisfy the sexual needs of older men. The boys are trained to dance seductively at men-only parties.
This is seen as a Persian custom, known as Bacha Bazi – boy play. It’s partly driven by the strict social rules surrounding interaction between men and women.
Despite Bacha Bazi being illegal under Afghan law, authorities are unable to end the practice because many of those involved are influential men. To these men, keeping a bacha baireesh – a boy without beard – is a sign of power and high social status.
In the 1990s, bacha bazi was outlawed by the Taliban, with sodomy, dancing and music carrying the death penalty – although the militant group have been accused of participating in the practice themselves.
The Boy Who Danced on Air
Created in 2017 by Charlie Sohne and Tim Rosser, The Boy Who Danced on Air is a musical that explores the world of the dancing boys of Afghanistan.
The musical is a love story between a 16-year-old boy, Paiman, and another young boy caught in the same bacha bazi practice.
It’s been criticised for glorifying the Bacha Bazi practice and distorting the experience of queer people in Afghanistan.