Boys sexual abuse ‘a cultural norm’ in Balochistan’s Shahrag town
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On the premiere eve of controversial Pakistani film portraying romance between a married man and a transgender person ‘Joyland’, another scandal was unearthed in Balochistan town where men abused young boys.
Film ‘Joyland’ was cleared for domestic screenings by the authorities, reversing a government ban. Lauded by critics, awarded the Jury Prize at Cannes, and nominated as Pakistan's entry for next year's Academy Awards – Oscars, the movie was set to open in cinemas across the country on Friday.
But following objections from religious circles, the information ministry stepped in last week to issue a veto declaring the film "repugnant to the norms of decency and morality" and ordered a review by censors. But Muhammad Tahir Hassan, head of the Central Board of Film Censors, said on Wednesday that "there is no hindrance from the board for its screening".
"The distributors can screen the film from tomorrow morning if they wish," he added.
Ahead of the ‘Joyland’ premiere a major scandal of sexual abusing of young boys was unearthed in Balochistan town of Shahrag, located in a valley in Harnai district. The scandal was broke by English daily Dawn.
Shahrag boasts 300 to 400 coalmines that are mined by over 30,000 men. There are children working in the mines, too, but an official count does not exist.
Shahrag is also completely cut off from the rest of Balochistan. In this isolation, Shahrag has managed to hide its big, ugly secret: its boys are not safe from its men.
When a 13-year-old Kaleem (not real name) reached the coal mines from Dir earlier this year, he didn’t expect much fanfare upon his arrival. But a colony of miners was waiting for that day to arrive. And as soon as he set foot on the Al-Gilani branch of the mountain, where some eight coal mines are situated, the excitement became tangible. News that Dir’s coal miners had brought in a new guy to the mines spread like wildfire. He became the talk of the town and even miners from other coal mines arrived to take a look at the new boy. Kaleem wasn’t quite the new bride but quickly became the new boy that many men were lusting after.
Children such as Kaleem are brought here from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even from Afghanistan for the sole purpose of sexually abusing them. They are used as sexual partners by mature coal miners — these boys are either unable to say no to unwanted advances or need the cash offered in exchange for providing sexual services.
At first, even Kaleem does not want to talk about his situation. When asked if his body is used for sexual services, he does not reply. He simply leaves the room.
Sexual abusers come in all forms and sizes. But they present themselves as ordinary human beings with an ordinary lifestyle.
For example, take Saqib*, a local coal miner in his early 40s and has been in the mining business for the last 15 years.
Saqib meets us at a playground situated away from Shahrag city, near the Harnai road. “The information you want to extract from me is strange,” he shouts when I ask him the question. “How can I tell you that we sexually abuse boys?”
But once he has settled down, he begins talking. “Yes, I have had sex with boys in coal mines and even outside,” says Saqib. “This is not new. Swatis and other Afghans have chhothus [young sidekicks] who are their sexual partners. I do not have one because I am a local. I cannot afford that.”
Background interviews with Shahrag’s children suggest that their parents, in most cases, are aware of their children’s sexual exploitation. But they turn a deaf ear to any complaints on the basis that these children are earning money. And they desperately need this money to make ends meet. This is why Shahrag’s children have “friendships” with people as old as their parents.