Prostitution and Trafficking

Study Details Sex-Traffic in Post-Saddam Iraq

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq thousands of women and girls have been trafficked for sexual exploitation, finds a report published today by the London-based Social Change Through Education in the Middle East.

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Refugee Women Hurt

Domestic violence, rape and other forms of gender-based violence have become a common practice among the internally displaced persons in Iraq and the large refugee communities in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and other countries of the Middle East, according to the report.

Iraqi women's vulnerability to trafficking began after the Gulf War in 1991 and the economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein's Baath regime, the study says. In the preceding two decades--from 1979 to 1991--Saddam's regime appeared to foster women's civil participation. Girls were allowed to attend school, which narrowed the literacy gap and provided women more access to high-ranking jobs in government agencies and ministries.

Divorce laws were liberalized, giving women more leeway to exit marriages. In 1980 women gained the right to vote and run for political office.

Two major exceptions to these liberalizations were Iraqi women from Shia Muslim and Kurdish communities who were subject to religious discrimination and highly vulnerable to rape by Saddam Hussein's militias and military personnel, or to being trafficked into Iran, Turkey, Egypt and Sudan, according to a 2010 study from the Norwegian Church Aid quoted by the study.

Gulf War Sanctions

The 1991 Gulf War led to tough economic sanctions by the international community designed to overthrow Saddam's Baath Party. That brought the country's economy to its knees. Employed women were dismissed from their jobs, freedoms were restricted and girls' school attendance dropped.

These restrictions worsened the exploitation of women in the workplace and led to an alarming increase in prostitution. "A huge number of widowed and single mothers, facing either no income or a monthly salary of just a few dollars, were forced into prostitution to merely survive," the study finds.

Facing financial difficulties, some families pushed daughters into prostitution, sold them to traffickers or forced them into marriage.

Authors tell the story on one young woman, Amira, whose " family was facing financial problems, when a man came to her father with an offer to hire Amira for $200 a month in order to help take care of his wife, who was handicapped. The impoverished family agreed with this tempting offer, but Amira, 17 years old, had no idea what was in store for her. Her work was not restricted to only housework; she had to have sexual intercourse with the son, and friends of, the man who hired her."

Confronted with this lack of security and the absence of punishment for such crimes, the report finds women and girls often confining themselves to their homes out of fear of being raped or kidnapped.

"We are all afraid and I cannot go alone anywhere. Even my older daughters, I fear for them. This is not a normal life we are living anymore," authors quoted a pharmacist in Bagdad.

Women Are Often Traffickers

Professional traffickers are very often women involved in the sex industry, authors say. These traffickers target girls and young women--often in cities or public transportation systems--who have often fled their homes out of fear of abuse, forced marriage or the threat of honor crimes. The traffickers pretend to provide assistance, offering to take the girls to shelters that turn out to be brothels. In other cases, male solicitors and taxi drivers are recruited by trafficking gangs to lure vulnerable young girls.

The report also explores the rise of Syria s mut'a marriages, known also as temporary marriages, which can be allowed among some Shia communities. The practice, with varying degrees of social acceptability, can be abused for trafficking purposes so that a girl or woman is married off on a Friday for an agreed price, and on the following Sunday the couple is divorced.

Research suggests that "the rates at which these mut'a marriages are carried out intensifies in the summer when male tourists visit Syria from the Gulf." Similar practices have also been observed in Lebanon.

Salma, for instance, was forced by her father into a mut'a marriage with her cousin at age 15. After 48 hours, after sexually exploiting her, he abandoned her. Her father refused to take her back. Instead he decided to take her to Syria to find her mother. At the border, her father left, selling her to a stranger who subjected her to a series of rapes and forced her into sex work in a Damascus nightclub for two years. Upon becoming pregnant, she was turned over to the streets of Damascus.

"Although this particular kind of marriage is not explicitly called prostitution, it is in effect sexual exploitation, often forced, as means of either securing livelihood, or generating profit." the report says.

Traffickers tend to target the youngest girls and women, for whom they can get the highest prices. "For virgin girls, the sale price can reach thousands of dollars and in some devastating cases; girls are obliged by their traffickers to undertake painful and dangerous hymen operations in order that they might be re-sold again as virgins."

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Hajer Naili is an editorial intern for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.

For more information:

Social Change Through Education in the Middle East:
http://www.sce-me.org/

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More reading on this topic: Toni Morrison writes of centuries later, black American women are still struggling to teach their children, and especially their girl children to be strong and to feel good about themselves, to know of their African culture, to be proud to be African women, all in a dominant culture that still works against them; that is how long it takes to recover from the horrendous ravages of slavery, including sexual slavery. Andrea O'Reilly's Rocking the Cradle discusses Toni Morrison's ideas of African mothering to show how important Morrison's work is to understanding mothering and grandmothering for any disadvantaged group. O'Reilly's book begins with her own (white) experiences in attempting to be a mother while beginning an academic career, and how many road-blocks she found. She found support in Toni Morrison's ideas for mothering. Her section on African American mothers and grandmothers discussing Toni Morrison's ideas on how slavery still haunts and needs to inform their everyday, all year long, mothering and grandmothering. The attempts to cut off their heritage, and their attempts to keep, revive and teach these is a lesson for everyone today in our apparently global world where only newness matters. Andrea's attempts to strongly be a mother while not sacrificing education and work plans, and all the existing 'ways' that tried to mitigate against that. How does that relate to sex trafficking? In normal times, it is difficult for women to be mothers and have a life outside their homes. If you are trafficked as a teen, the chances of you becoming pregnant are great. When you become a mother, you are useless, and now have no resources and no where to go, no culture to stand by you at all. When this is as frequent as it is today, the mothering side of cultural transmission is cut off, killed; thus, the culture is effectively dead in that area and where the trafficked women are, and is so, possibly for centuries. This is an epidemic that needs to be stopped.

This is abject slavery! Girls and women, formerly while with no life outside of home, were at least almost revered at home. This is one of the worst examples of effects of war, especially a lop-sided war, where the invaders are a wealthy nation that allows contractors and military a kind of freedom that shows complete lack of respect for the nation they have invaded. Life for these women and girls is undoubtedly worse than before that war. This has established a culture that has destroyed the strengths of the existing culture, while not replacing them with a true respect for one another that would enable the development of a true democracy that includes women. Read Kathy Bolcovac's "The Whistleblower" about this problem in Bosnia. It is a very difficult problem to stop once begun, and the United Nations is not yet doing its part to stop it.

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