Sex traffickers target women in war-torn Iraq
DUBAI, 26 Oct 2006 (IRIN) - Mariam, 16, relives
the day her father in Baghdad sold her off as a domestic worker in one of the
prosperous Gulf nations. Instead, she was forced into the sex trade.
was a virgin and didn’t understand what sex was. I was told that they [the
traffickers] were going to get good money for my first night with an old local
man who paid for my virginity. He was aggressive and hit me all the time,”
Mariam, who refused to reveal her real name, told IRIN.
Mariam, 16, escaped life as a sex worker
in Dubai to return to Baghdad.
Thousands of Iraqi women are being taken
advantage of by unscrupulous sex worker traffickers seeking to exploit young
girls’ desperate socio-economic situation for profit, United Nations agencies
In Mariam’s case, she was taken to Dubai in the United
Arab Emirates (UAE) and kept in a house with 20 young girls, all of them sex
workers, she said.
Before she left Iraq, she and her three sisters were
being cared for by her father. Their mother was killed during the US-led
invasion of the country in 2003.
Mariam said her father couldn’t cope
with looking after the children on his own and wanted her to go abroad,
particularly given the increasing insecurity and daily violence in
In November 2005, a member of a trafficking ring offered Mariam’s
father an advance payment of US $6,000 for her, saying she would work for a
family in Dubai. He was promised that his daughter would be returned to Iraq
after finishing a one-year contract.
Mariam said she faced daily threats
in Dubai from the traffickers, warning her not to try to leave. However, she
managed to escape and is now back in Baghdad being looked after by a local NGO,
the Organisation for Women's Freedom.
Thousands traded for sex
The teenager’s story is not uncommon. While accurate statistics
are hard to come by, the Women’s Freedom NGO estimates that nearly 3,500 Iraqi
women have gone missing since the US-led occupation of Iraq began in 2003 and
that there is a high chance many have been traded for sex work. It says 25
percent of these women have been trafficked abroad since the start of 2006, many
unaware of their fate.
“People are desperate to get money to support
their families … just to have something to eat. If the government does not act
on this issue, more women will be abused outside Iraq,” Nuha Salim, spokeswoman
for the NGO, said.
The Iraqi government says it is investigating cases of
women being trafficked and has arrested some traffickers, but tackling
insecurity in the country is its main priority.
Apart from the need for
government action, women’s-rights activists say that as long as there is a
market for women abroad, the problem will continue and worsen. They call for
more action against countries that turn a blind eye to the sex trade.
“Women are being taken outside of Iraq and are losing what is most
precious to them - their dignity,” Salim said.
prostitution are illegal in the six nations of the Gulf, although the region is
a popular and common destination for trafficked women. An estimated 10,000 women
from sub-Saharan Africa, eastern Europe, Asia and parts of the Middle East may
be victims of sex trafficking in the UAE, according to a US State Department
report entitled ‘Trafficking in Persons’, published in June.
Sharla Musabih is a human-rights activist in Dubai who runs a
shelter for abused and trafficked women. She says sex workers in the UAE operate
predominantly from hotels and organised gangs are behind much of the trade.
“It’s not organised in the UAE but there is an organised mafia outside
[the country] that owns hotels in the UAE and they organise it … But, on the
other hand, the big guys [Emirati nationals] involved in immigration are really
concerned and are trying to do something about it and they care about
Musabih said it was common for girls to be promised domestic work
and be forced into sex work. “I’ve heard the girls pay $10,000 initially to come
to the UAE. They get paid anything from 20 dirhams [$6] to 20,000 [$6,000] a
night, depending on the client.”
According to the US State Department
report, the UAE government has failed to address the problem adequately,
although inroads have been made.
“Instead, many victims [of trafficking]
are jailed along with criminals and deported,” the report reads. “Prosecutions
for sex trafficking are extremely low relative to the scope of the problem.”
The report states that despite 100 reported complaints of trafficking
for sexual exploitation in 2005, the UAE government reported only 22 convictions
for sex-trafficking crimes.
However, the report praised UAE authorities
for the closer screening of visa applications by its embassies in source
countries; for having set up a human-trafficking division to investigate
trafficking crimes; and for training police, prosecutors, judges, and other
government officials in combating trafficking.
No one was available from
the Dubai immigration and police department to comment on this
Trafficked to Syria
The UAE is not the only
destination for trafficked Iraqi women. Syria is increasingly becoming a popular
destination for traffickers, according to humanitarian agencies.
released in May by the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), the UN’s
Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme (WFP) spoke of “organised
networks dealing with the sex trade” in Syria. It made a correlation between the
deteriorating conditions of Iraqi citizens and an increase in prostitution and
trafficking of Iraqi sex workers.
"It is not possible to say how big the
trafficking problem from Iraq to Syria is but we know it does exist," said Ann
Maymann, a protection officer with UNHCR in Damascus. "It is something that has
been kept quiet because people are afraid to talk about it."
activists in Syria say much more needs to be done to protect this vulnerable and
increasingly exploited community.
Last September, the International
Organisation for Migration (IOM) co-hosted a workshop with the Ministry of
Interior to raise awareness on counter-trafficking.
Maria Rumman, IOM
chief of mission in Damascus, said the organisation was assisting a Syrian
government committee established to draft a counter-trafficking law, and was
waiting for international donor funds for a proposed shelter to assist victims
of trafficking. Without such a facility, she said, surveying the number of
people trafficked into Syria was impossible.
"The government agrees
there is a need for new legislation and for a shelter," said Rumman. "But we
have not received any reply from donors, including the US, for a year. The
minute we have any donor commitment we will begin."
The above article comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. © UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2006
... Payvand News - 10/28/06 ... --