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Kabul Urged To Protect Sexually Abused Children

As the number of street children in Afghanistan has grown, more and more children are exposed to the risk of sexual abuse.
As the number of street children in Afghanistan has grown, more and more children are exposed to the risk of sexual abuse.
A 13-year-old boy has been jailed for having sex in a park with two adult men, the latest case of a victim of a sexual crime being punished in Afghanistan.

In October 2012, the boy was convicted of having sex with the men in a park in the western province of Herat and sentenced to a year in juvenile detention.

As Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports, Afghan law prohibits "pederasty," commonly understood to mean sex between a man and a boy, and makes it a crime punishable by five to 15 years in prison. "Moral crimes" include not only pederasty but any sexual relations between people who are not married to each other, and have been used to punish the victim of a crime.

"When a man has sex with a 13-year-old child, the child is a victim of rape, not a criminal offender," says Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director. "The Afghan government should never have victimized this boy a second time, but instead should have released him immediately with urgent protection and assistance."

HRW quoted a prosecutor involved in the case as saying that the boy was prosecuted because he said he had consented to sex with several men. The men were also arrested and charged with moral crimes, but the outcomes of their cases are not known.

As the number of street children in Afghanistan has grown, more and more children are exposed to the risk of sexual abuse. HRW has urged the Afghan government to raise the legal age of consent to protect children and to expand the law passed in 2009 on violence against women -- which defined rape as a crime for the first time -- to include men and boys.

"Afghan lawmakers should move forward promptly in revising the penal code to provide better protection for both victims and criminal suspects," Adams says. "The revision should ensure that rape is seen as a serious crime, whether committed against men and boys or women and girls, and that victims are not treated as criminals."

HRW also called attention to the practice of "bacha bazi," where young boys work as dancers to entertain groups of men. As women and girls are not permitted to entertain men, the boys are often dressed in women's clothing and subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation.

"The Afghan government needs to take urgent steps to protect children from sexual assault, including boys who are abused through the practice of bacha bazi," Adams says. "Treating boys who have been raped as criminals undermines all government efforts to protect children from abuse."

The previously taboo subject of rape and sexual abuse has slowly emerged as a topic of public debate in the deeply conservative country. Media coverage of two rape cases in the northern Takhar and Sari Pol provinces in 2010, where girls as young as 11 were gang raped, prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to meet with the victims and their families. He promised to crack down on rape and bring the attackers to justice.

-- Dan Wisniewski

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