The US has ended it's war in Afghanistan after 20 years, and the Taliban that they overthrew have taken control of Afghanistan yet again. As Westerners look on, horrified by what they see happening, the news has been filled with stories about how women will suffer under the Taliban, and it is completely understandable to be concerned. The Taliban have a history of brutality towards women, forcing them behind closed doors, to dress from head-to-toe in burqas, preventing women from working and going to school, and dishing out violent punishments to women and girls for minor indiscretions.
The world should talk about the effect the Taliban will have on women, no doubt. But, let's look for a moment or two at how boys and young men will also suffer.
Life under the Taliban is not pleasant for anyone.
Boys Being Groomed to Fight
Imagine you are 13 year old boy and you suddenly find yourself with a machine gun in your hand and on the battle field fighting for a religious belief. In Madaris (Islamic schools) run by radical extremists, young boys are bombarded with propaganda for hours upon hours each day, including teaching of martyrdom and holy war. They are groomed to believe that fighting and dying for their religion and their god is a high honour and there will be great rewards in "Paradise".
According to a report by Human Rights Watch in 2016, here is what the reality will be for countless boys and young men under Taliban rule, especially if the country completely breaks down into civil war...again.
"The Taliban recruit and train children in age-specific stages. Boys begin indoctrination as young as six years old, and continue to study religious subjects under Taliban teachers for up to seven years. According to relatives of boys recruited by the Taliban, by the time they are 13, Taliban-educated children have learned military skills including use of firearms, and the production and deployment of IEDs. Taliban teachers then introduce those trained child soldiers to specific Taliban groups in that district."
Some of the boys that end up fighting aren't even recruited. They are kidnapped and forced to become suicide bombers and fighters.
Sexual Exploitation of Boys
Boys have not always had it easy in Afghanistan all along. Even though it is illegal, there is tradition of bachabaze, or "playing with boys," that has led to many young boys becoming sex slaves to older, wealthier men. The BBC reported on the practice in 2010:
"The men behind the practice are often wealthy and powerful. Some of them keep several bachas (boys) and use them as status symbols - a display of their riches. The boys, who can be as young as 12, are usually orphans or from very poor families."
Sadly, the custom still continues today, even though many officials won't acknowledge it. Effeminate, vulnerable boys are sought out by wealthy men. They are taken to parties where they dress as women and dance for a room of men in a sexual way. Because it is illegal for women to dance in front of men, this is seen as a substitute. As if dancing for the men wasn't enough, usually after the parties the boys are taken somewhere where they are sexually abused. It is considered sodomy and thus is seen as un-Islamic, but the abuse continues.
Child Grooms Being Married Off
Often, we talk about child marriage in terms of child brides. But this practice affects boys in Afghanistan as well, with some being married off as young as 13. They then have to take on adults responsibilities of providing for a wife and family at that young age. They are often forced into arranged marriages by poorer families in rural areas. The Taliban flourish in conservative rural areas where the practice is more wide spread. The number of boys affected by child marriage may be less than the number of girls affected, but it still robs boys of their childhood. Often, these boys who must provide for their family are forced to drop out of school. Not being educated keeps them in a cycle of poverty.
So, yes, indeed, life under the Taliban will be tragic for women. However, let's not forget about the boys and young men who have suffered for years in a country where customs and traditions can be harsh to them as well. And remember that life will only get harder for many under the Taliban.