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Newspaper article International Herald Tribune. Mazar-i-Sharif has become Afghanistan's unofficial capital of prostitution, so much so that "going to Mazar" is used as a byword for Afghan men looking to pay for sex. This verdant city is home to some of Afghanistan's greatest treasures: It is the birthplace of the celebrated poet Rumi, and the site of one of the country's most storied mosques. It is the first Afghan city to have been connected with another country by rail.
Among all of Mazar's distinctions is a more dubious one. It is also Afghanistan's unofficial capital of prostitution -- so much so that "going to Mazar" has become a byword for Afghan men looking to pay for sex. Partly, the phenomenon is due to the city's culture, which is considerably more forgiving of vice than is the rest of the country. Alcohol, though still illegal, can be found without too much trouble. Women, largely confined to the home, can be seen socializing with men in Mazar's public parks, a rare sight even in Kabul, the capital.
But as much as anything, a business boom has fueled the sex trade in Mazar, local officials and aid workers say. In recent years, the city's economy has flourished as its proximity to Central Asia and its relative peace and stability have transformed it into a trading hub. Buildings are springing up across the city as local and regional companies set up shop.
The flourishing of prostitution in Mazar casts a glaring light on the contradictions of the male-dominated Afghan society, where even the implication of immorality can mean death for women. The sex trade has existed in one form or another for decades, even under the ultraconservative rule of the Taliban. But officials say the rapid spread of mobile technology has made the business easier to manage and harder to detect, allowing prostitution to expand. Corruption is another factor that keeps business booming.
Indeed, one of the interviews conducted with a prostitute for this article was coordinated by a police officer who is a client. The business is conducted in the most secretive ways, and few are willing to talk publicly about it. Almost all of the women involved are driven to desperation by poverty.