In a society where the sexes are strictly segregated, it is common for men to dance for other men at weddings in Afghanistan.
But in northern Afghanistan, former warlords and mujahideen commanders have taken that a step further with competitions for their dancing boys.
"Every boy tries to be the first. They are dressed in women's clothes, have bells on their feet and have artificial breasts," said Mohammad Yawar, a former mujahideen fighter against the Taliban and resident of the northern town of Pul-e Khumri.
The practice, called "bacha bazi" -- literally "boy play" -- has a long history in northern Afghanistan, but sometimes it does not stop with just dancing.
"I very much enjoy hugging a boy. His smell and fragrance kills me," said Yawar.
The 38-year-old businessman said he recruited a 15-year-old boy three years ago to help him with his work.
"I have had him for at least three years, since he was only 15. He was looking for a job and I gave him somewhere to stay," said Yawar, showing the boy's picture.
"I don't have a wife. He is like my wife. I dress him in women's clothes and have him sleep beside me. I enjoy him and he is my everything," he said, kissing the photograph.
MARK OF PRESTIGE
Having the best-looking boy and the best dancer is a mark of prestige.
"Everyone tries to have the best, most handsome and good-looking boy," said a former mujahideen commander, who declined to be named.
"Sometimes we gather and make our boys dance and whoever wins, his boy will be the best boy."
Former mujahideen commanders hold such parties in and around Pul-e Khumri about once a week.
"Having a boy has become a custom for us. Whoever wants to show off, should have a boy," said Enayatullah, a 42-year-old landowner in Baghlan province.
"I was married to a woman 20 years ago, she left me because of my boy," he said. "I was playing with my boy every night and was away from home, eventually my wife decided to leave me. I am happy with my decision, because I am used to sleeping and entertaining with my young boy."
The men say they lavish money and gifts on their boys.
"I was only 14-years-old when a former Uzbek commander forced me to have sex with him," said Shir Mohammad in Sar-e Pol province. "Later, I quit my family and became his secretary. I have been with him for 10 years, I am now grown up, but he still loves me and I sleep with him."
Ahmad Jawad, aged 17, has been with a wealthy landowner for the past two years.
"I am used to it. I love my lord. I love to dance and act like a woman and play with my owner," he said.
Asked what he would do when he got older, he said: "Once I grow up, I will be an owner and I will have my own boys."
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