Nightly News | September 21, 2010
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: We are back now with a look at a long hidden secret about everyday life in Afghanistan , where girls cannot always be who they are. A documentary airing tonight on the cable channel HDNet reveals the lengths that some Afghan families go to to create a better life for themselves and, most importantly, their children. Our own Kate Snow has more on this secret in plain sight.
Unidentified Woman: Good morning.
KATE SNOW reporting: They look like any other middle-class family in Kabul . Mom makes breakfast, the kids get ready for school. But six-year-old Mehran is not what he seems. Two years ago Azita Rafaat told her youngest daughter that she'd be getting a haircut.
Ms. AZITA RAFAAT: And you be our boy after this, our son after this. Would you like to be? And she said, 'Wow, it's mean after this play outside, fight with the boys, and also to play football, play cricket? I like it. Let's go .'
SNOW: As hard as it may be for Americans to understand, in Afghanistan families cherish boys so much they often cry when a girl is born. In partnership with The New York Times , Dan Rather 's team spent several months talking with families who'd changed girls to boys for a program airing on HDNet tonight.
Mr. DAN RATHER: The reason they do it is, one, to bring honor to the family and make the family part of the Afghan tradition and be accepted by peers. Number two is to give the child an opportunity to go to school.
SNOW: It's been quietly happening for generations. In the Dari language it's called "bacha posh," literally "dressed up as a boy."
Ms. GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON (Council On Foreign Relations): Girls are drains and boys are contributors. That comes down to the fundamental difference. I think you see a lot of Afghan women changing that, but it'll take time.
SNOW: Ironically, Azita Rafaat is a champion for women's rights in Afghanistan . She's one of the rare female members of parliament. But when constituents used to come visit her home, they would say how sorry they were that the family had no boys. Now the Rafaats proudly show off their son, Mehran .
MEHRAN: This is boy's bag. And this is too boy's bag.
SNOW: In this secretive tradition, Mehran will likely be raised as a boy until she's a teenager, ready to be married off, which, by the way, is exactly what happened to her mother, who spent years of her own life as a boy. Kate Snow , NBC News, New York.