Explanation of Pedophilia in Afghanistan


A Study In-Progress

by Abrahim Rasouli

Executive Summary
This study discusses the phenomenon of pedophilia in the social context of Afghanistan. This etiological study suggests that (1) individuals with pedophilic tendencies have typically had the experience of being sexually abused in childhood; (2) unavailability of female partner and accessibility of male children are effective in strengthening pedophilic behavior; (3) diminishing or weakening of moral, religious, and social principles, because of the civil war, has resulted in inadequacy of the prohibitive mechanisms for pedophilic behavior.

In addition, this research finds pedophilia an abuse towards children. Thus, it provides a counterargument against some studies that separate pedophilia from child abuse. This study indicates that sexual relationship between an adult and a child can physically and/or emotionally damage the child. In addition, it creates problem in essence because it is against the child’s autonomy, in his relationship with an adult.

Dressed up as girls, hardly more than 12 years old, the boy is surrounded by men who are watching the boy’s dancing. The men are clapping their hands by the rhythm of the music, and the rhythm of the bell the boy has put on his feet. The men look happy and joyful, but happier, and rather proud of his bacha bereesh’s (boy-without-bear) good dance, is one of them: “the owner of the boy.” But, there is another rhythm the men are not able to hear it: the rhythm of hatred, anger, and revenge in the boy’s heart. “Once I grow up, I will be an owner and I will have my own boys.” (Bola, 2007)

The above description, however dramatically, may illustrate a typical pedophilic party in Afghanistan. Today in 2010, nine years after overthrow of Taliban and establishment of the new government with the support of the international community, Afghan children are still suffering from many catastrophic conditions, including high rates of infant mortality, child labor, child marriage, and child sexual abuse. According to UNICEF (2010), by 2008, 30% of children of 5-14 years old are involved in child labor and 43% are victims of child marriage. Still, there are no data from rural parts of Afghanistan and about many subject areas that Afghan children are suffering from. One of these areas is child sexual abuse. According to the head of the European Union’s representative office, Hansjorg Kretschmer, 1,459 cases of child sexual exploitation has been reported in 2008; he calls this “the tip of the iceberg” (ABC News, 2009). For many reasons, little has been done about child abuse in Afghanistan. Kretschmer maintains that comparing to total funds flowing into Afghanistan just a small amount has been spent for children. Fawzia Kofi, Afghan parliament member, blames Afghan officials who tolerate warlords. The warlords that are mostly alleged to be involved in child abuse (ABC News, 2009).

In Afghanistan, child sexual abuse, or pedophilia, is called bachbazi, which literally means playing with boy. In spite of the fact that Islam bans sex with minors, and Taliban stoned people who committed it, still there are people with pedophilic behaviors. This fact may be remarkable in a religious society from where one of the most radical religious ideologies, in the 20th century, has been arisen. The questions that arise about pedophilia in Afghanistan include: (1) Why pedophiles are gratified by children; (2) Why are they sexually aroused by children; (3) Why do not they adopt the normal sexual practices; and, (4) Why cannot moral, social and religious prohibitive mechanisms stop pedophiles from their pedophilic tendencies or behaviors?

Definitions of Pedophilia
Having derived from the Greek words philia (love) and pedeiktos (children) (Seto, 2004; Harvard Medical School, 2004), some studies define pedophilia as a persistent and exclusive, sexual interest towards prepubertal children (Cloud, 2003; Seto, 2004; Harvard Medical School, 2004). This definition of pedophilia excludes individuals who do not exclusively have continuous interest in prepubertal children. For example, Seto (2004) emphasizes that a pedophile has “no sexual interest in adults.” There has been a controversy over defining pedophilia in this sense (Finkelhor & Araji, 1986), since by the “inclusive” definition of pedophilia, all kinds of sexual contacts between an adult and a child, however transitory, will be considered pedophilic behaviors (Friedman, 1959; Finkelhor & Araji, 1986). Finkelhor & Araji (1986) maintains that by exclusively defining pedophilia, there would be no term to generally apply to other kinds of sexual relationship, including transitory, between an adult and a child. In addition, applying the term pedophilia only for the “exclusive-type offenders” would need a particular, empirically supported theory, which is “far from being fully substantiated.”[1]

However, the inclusive definition may still be arguable in this that not all people, who have transitorily had sexual contacts with children, call themselves pedophiles (Cloud, 2003). There are offenders who are not pedophiles and pedophiles who have never committed offenses against children (Seto, 2004; Ipce, 1981). Besides, many researchers, in defining pedophilia, focus on the “sexual contact” (see Finkelhor & Araji, 1986; Seto, 2004). Although, the sexual motives of pedophilia are significant, however, as a social phenomenon, other motives, other than sexual, including social prestige and masculinity will become important.

For the purpose of the current study, and particularly in the context of Afghanistan, pedophilia is defined as an adult’s[2] persistent, sexual tendency towards prepubertal children, with the aim of having sexual contacts, including kissing, hugging, touching, playing, and penetration, as well as “exposing to children (exhibitionism), undressing a child, looking at naked children (voyeurism), or masturbating in the presence of children [among other sexual activities]” (Hall & Hall, 2007).

Pedophilia and Child Abuse
Some researchers make a distinction between pedophilia and child abuse (Seto, 2004; Cloud, 2003; Hall & Hall, 2007). Nevertheless, the primary elements that make pedophilia an abuse against children are physical and psychological damages to children, in result of a sexual relationship between them.[3] According to Kendeall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor (1993) children, who have been sexually abused, have more symptoms such as fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioral problems, sexual problems, and poor self esteem (also see Harvard Medical School, 2004). However, if the sexual relationship does not damage the child, will it be justified? For example, Hall & Hall (2007) maintains that pedophiles do not use physical force but rely on many types of “psychic manipulation.”

On the other hand, the sexual relationship between an adult and a prepubescent person may create problems because the prepubescent person is not supposed to be in a mature position to make decision about the sexual relationship with an adult, either with or without damage. Therefore, one of the key factors in this regard is the age of children, which can be considered as a legal issue, may vary from society to society, and will be arbitrary (Seto, 2004). Based on Zhubal (The Pubertal Age in Shari’a and Law), in Afghanistan in the past, puberty age was determined according to Shari’a and a court’s decision, and was based on natural characteristics, being estimated from 12-15 years for boys and from 9-15 years for girls. The pubertal person then would be determined eligible to take part in legal transactions. In 1969, the law, concerning juvenile criminal issues, was approved, based on which the child under 15 years of age is considered to be prepubertal person.[4] Based on Bernard’s (see Bernard, 1975 in Seto, 2004) survey, “An Enquiry among a Group of Pedophiles,” most respondents preferred male child, between the ages of 11-12. According to Wilson and Cox (see Wilson & Cox, 1983 in Seto, 2004) survey of 77 members of then advocacy organization for pedophilic relationship, all the respondents’ […] preferred age range, for boys 12-14 years and for girls, 8-10 years. Also, Hall & Hall (2007) finds that individuals who are attracted to female children prefer the ages of 8-10 years, and those who attracted to boys, prefer the ages of 10-13 years.[5] On the preferred age of children for pedophiles in Afghanistan, currently, there are no empirical data, however, it may be hypothesized that the preferred age is less than 15 years old.

Etiology of Pedophilia
Although, there have been many researches, conducted about pedophilia and its effects on children (Hall & Hall, 2007), yet a few etiological studies have been done in this regard (Seto, 2004; Finkelhor & Araji, 1986; Harvard Medical School, 2004). There are studies which relate pedophilia with biological reasons including neurodevelopmental factor (Seto, 2004) and abnormalities in brain function (Harvard Medical School, 2004). However, any discussion of pedophilia from biological perspective will be beyond the scope of the current study.

A model is provided by Marshall & Marshall (2000). Based on this model, poor child-parent relationship increases the likelihood for the perpetrator of being sexually abused in childhood, and in turn “feeds into the sexual fantasies [he] entertain, particularly during adolescence.” In this model, masturbation via sexual fantasies is regarded a “coping strategy” against stress and low self-confidence. It accordingly increases the high chance of representing elements of “power and control” for the perpetrator. All these factors will eventually create a condition for him to offend.

A more comprehensive model is provided by Finkelhor & Araji (1986), by which they suggest a four-factor model: (1) emotional congruence; (2) sexual arousal; (3) blockage; (4) disinhibition.

This study tries to integrate the variety of one-factor models into one multi-factor model that “accounts for the many different kinds of pedophilic outcomes.” Although, this study maintains that these factors are important in distinguishing those who have committed, from those have not, offenses against children, (Finkelhor & Araji, 1986), however, it is not without flaws. Seto (2004) believes that “the origins of these factors, especially [blockage], are not specified.” Nevertheless, the current study puts its basis on this four-factor model.

Explanation of Pedophilia in Afghanistan Based on the Four-Factor Model

1) Emotional congruence
Why are Afghan pedophiles emotionally satisfied with children? Some psychological theories suggest their “childish emotional needs,” that make them relate with children. Similar theories also correlate with low-self esteem. Another group of theories relate to the experiences of pedophile of “shame, humiliation, or powerlessness” in the hands of an adult, in childhood. Groth, Hobson, & Gary (quoted in Finkelhor & Araji, 1986), in “Social Work and Child Sexual Abuse,” says,

“One way in which [the perpetrator] may try to combat the feelings of powerlessness inherent in being a victim [in childhood] is to ultimately identity with the aggressor and reverse roles; that is, to become the powerful victimizer rather than the helpless victim.”

There are no empirical data about Afghan pedophiles in this sense, however, the current study wants to hypothesize that perpetrator has had an experience of being sexually abused in childhood. Therefore, by reversing the role of being victimized to victimizing, he wants to cope with stress and low self-confidence. This process may also be argued based on the model that Marshall and Marshall (2000) suggests. In this regard, the period of the civil war in Afghanistan, and the anarchy in result of that, may have created a social situation where many children have undergone sexual abuse. Any future survey in this regard will be useful if it can also study the age of current pedophiles whether it can correlate with the years of the civil war.

2) Sexual arousal
Why are pedophiles sexually aroused by children? Sexual arousal is defined as, “a physiological response (e.g., penile tumescence) to the presence of children or to fantasies of children in sexual activities. Some theories do not study sexual arousal separately and consider it under the emotional congruence. Other groups, based on Sigmund Freud’s concept of “polymorphous attraction,” believe that all people may have sexual arousal to children. Another group of theories do not at all believe that pedophilia is about sexual interests in children. The current study, however, do not have any specific hypothesis in this regard, and we may only provide in here some of the general ideas.

3) Blockage
Why do not pedophiles adopt a normal heterosexual relationship with an adult? There are reasons why a person is banned from adopting normal sexual practices. Finkelhor and Araji provides some of these reasons. Some males, who find themselves “impotent” in their first experience of sexual relationship with an adult female, “come to associate adult sexuality with pain and frustration.” In general Finkelhor and Araji divides blockage into two kinds: developmental and situational. Developmental blockage is where the person is not developed to having adult heterosexual relationship, whereas situational blockage refers to conditions like, “the loss of a relationship or some other transitory crisis.” In the context of Afghanistan, however, inaccessibility of female partners may be a major reason; in particular, when male individuals want to develop experiences of having sexual relationship with female partner but the society does not provide this opportunity. On other hand, having access to male children, in particular street children and children who do not have parents, may provide an alternative for them to experiment their sexual desires.

4) Disinhibition
Why cannot social, moral, and religious prohibitive mechanisms prevent pedophiles from their pedophilic tendencies and/or behaviors? Since there is no demographic data about Afghan pedophiles, we are not able to reach any concrete conclusion about the failure of current social, moral, and religious prohibitive mechanisms. However, a hypothesis can be provided about the social class of Afghan pedophiles. Undoubtedly, the three decades of civil conflicts have had many impacts on Afghans’ lives. In particular, it has damaged moral principles. However, the extent of these impacts may vary from communities to communities, and it might have been more considerable in some subcultures, such as, warlords.

Limitations of the Research
The current study is a student research project for the class of sociology. During the course of this research, some problems and limitations were encountered which may have reduced the capacity of this study, and may affect the ultimate result. One of these limitations was the unfeasibility of conducting a comprehensive survey over pedophiles in Afghanistan in non-forensic and non-clinical settings where pedophiles can voluntary provide information about their beliefs, feelings, preferences, and statuses. This approach, however, may be highly idealistic since even the available data from surveys conducted in other social contexts, the participants have been typically selected from clinical or correctional settings (Seto, 2004; Hall & Hall, 2007) where “[the pedophiles] are either distressed about their sexual interest or facing pressure from family members or others to see a professional, increasing the likelihood of detecting psychological problems, whereas pedophiles seen in correctional settings have been criminally charged for sexual offenses against children, increasing the likelihood of detecting antisocial characteristics” (Seto, 2004). Therefore, this study is limited with providing only hypotheses which, it believes, are valid considering the given factors.

Conclusions and Recommendations
This study has an inclusive perspective towards pedophilia. Thus, it does not separate individuals merely having pedophilic tendencies with those who have had the experience of pedophilic behaviors, either or not already having the tendency. In other words, it finds pedophilia a child abuse.

In the context of Afghanistan, this etiological study hypothesizes that (1) individuals with pedophilic tendencies have typically had the experience of being sexually abused in childhood. Also, the unavailability of female partners and accessibility of male children have been effective in strengthening pedophilic behavior. And finally, diminishing or weakening of moral, religious, and social principles, because of the civil war, resulted in failure of these prohibitive mechanisms for pedophilic behavior.
Any future survey, in a non-forensic or non-clinical environment, can provide evidence to empirically prove or reject the hypotheses provided in this study. In this regard, anonymity of the participants will be extremely important.

This research does not address other significant factors in the study of pedophilia in Afghanistan. For example, ethnicity is one of these factors. The importance of ethnicity comes back to the dominant social belief correlating pedophilia with the ethnic group of Pashtuns, in particular with Kandahar province, as well as some northern parts of Afghanistan. However, only a comprehensive study can prove or reject this common belief, whether it is merely a stereotype or it has basis in an ethnic culture.

In addition, even comparing to men, there is less data about female pedophiles. However, study of pedophilia should not be limited to the gender of male, and it also needs to consider females.



1 In fact, Most of the available data are from clinical or forensic settings, and self-recognized individuals with pedophilic tendencies rarely volunteer to provide information (Hall & Hall, 2007; Seto, 2004). Also, Hall & Hall (2007) found that of 2429 pedophiles, only 7% identified themselves with having exclusively interest in children.

2 Any discussion of a pedophile person, in this study, will represent a male adult. There is much less data from females engaged in pedophilic behaviors comparing to men (Finkelhor & Araji, 1986; Hall & Hall, 2007), which would make it difficult to reach a theory about them.

3 The Child Abuse Council of Santa Clara County (2010), a community “to protect children from abuse and neglect by their parents and caregivers, and from the systems designed to protect them,” define child abuse as being physical, emotional, sexual, and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (Child Welfare Information Gateway , 2008), defines child abuse as, “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or, An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” And finally, based on a report by UNICEF (2001), it “[identifies…] the category of abuse [in Zambia] (mistreatment through neglect, exploitation of child labor, or sexual abuse).”

4 According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “The minimum age [for work…] shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years” (UNHCHR, 1973).

5 Some studies use the term “hebephilia” describing sexual attractions to pubescent or post-pubescent minors (Carter, Cimbolic, & Tallon, 2008)

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  1. Thanks Zinat! It is a pleasure you read the paper.

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