The town where boys aren’t safe from men

On the face of it, Shahrag is a traditionally patriarchal society and fairly religious, too. Women hardly come out of their homes and men tend to rule the roost around here.

But Shahrag is also completely cut off from the rest of Balochistan. Nobody there quite knows what is happening in the rest of the country. Nobody in the rest of the country cares much for Shahrag either.

In this isolation, Shahrag has managed to hide its big, ugly secret: its boys are not safe from its men.

When 13-year-old Kaleem* 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.

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.

The first shift at the mines ends just after 3pm and the miners begin to emerge. All of them come to sit with us and we quickly change the discussion. The talk is now about the vulnerability felt by the coal miners in the mines. As we are about to leave, I spot Kaleem sitting on a big rock and chatting with a tall man.

“He [Kaleem] is their special guy,” relates a local miner accompanying me. “The monthly payment he is given is remuneration for satisfying their lust, not to work. They do not let him in the coal mine because he will get blackened.”