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Dancing Boys and the Moral Dilemmas of Military Missions: The Practice of Bacha Bazi in Afghanistan

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Since there is a remarkable lack of gender-specific data on sexual violence toward men in the international military operations literature, our aim is to contribute to the discourse on the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine, concentrating on gender-based violence toward boys in the armed conflict in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, large sections of vulnerable civilians are exposed to moral dangers, including sexual violence, which can be explained by the complete collapse of the state and society after decades of war. The focus in this chapter is on how Dutch military personnel act when faced with sexual violence regarding young boys, having the responsibility to protect and at the same time also having to maintain good relations with their local partners. First, we describe a number of theoretical notions. Secondly, we examine the background of bacha bazi in Afghanistan and the Dutch and international guidelines regarding bacha bazi. Finally, we discuss what Dutch military personnel did when faced with bacha bazi and give a number of recommendations for future international missions.
... This example is not unique. Soldiers from different countries have returned from their deployment relating stories of witnessing perceived moral violations, either by local people or their own colleagues or commanders (Schut and van Baarle 2017;Vikan 2017). An increasing body of evidence shows how experiences like these, in which competing values collide, may give rise to mental health problems among soldiers (Ritov and Barnetz 2014;Currier et al. 2015;Bryan et al. 2016;Jordan et al. 2017;Wisco et al. 2017). ...
... Another survey showed that 28% of US Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had encountered "ethical situations", in which they "did not know how to respond" (MHAT 2008, 58). Schut and van Baarle (2017), similarly, found that moral dimensions (and the related moral values) of situations are not always recognized, which seems to make it more difficult for soldiers to come to a conscious choice on how to act. It appears that military personnel often avoid taking action because they feel obliged to follow orders and do not want to offend their Afghan colleagues or local leaders, who are the main perpetrators of sexual acts against the "dancing boys". ...
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