Life in slavery of Iraqi Women
Life in slavery of Iraqi Women
In the chaos of war and the confusion, lawlessness and poverty that followed, an untold number of women and children have become victims of sexual traffickers, some within Iraq and others sold over the borders.
But the problem of trafficking has gone almost unreported, kept in the shadows by a combination of corruption, religious and cultural taboo and lack of interest by the region's authorities in tackling it.
Girls as young as 10 or 12 who have been trafficked from post-war Iraq into countries including Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia for sexual exploitation.
Other victims trafficked within Iraq end up in nightclubs or brothels, often in Baghdad. Some of those brothels have been established purely to meet the demand created by United States Service personnel.
While sexual exploitation existed in Iraq, as anywhere, long before the war began in 2003, The invasion and instability that followed led to an environment where young women and girls became much more vulnerable to trafficking.
One Iraqi non-governmental organization, the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq estimates that about 4,000 women one fifth of them aged under 18, disappeared in the first seven years after the war.
Many were trafficked by criminal gangs nationally or internationally, or sold into forced marriage by their own families.
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were displaced or made refuges by the war. Prevented from working legally, some men have forced female relatives into prostitution to earn money for the family.
Others have taken advantage of other's hardship. 17 year-old girl, whose impoverished father accepted a man's offer to hire for $200 a month to care for this handicapped wife? As well as housework, she was forced have sex with the man's son and friends. Professional trafficking gangs also target young women after they flee home to escape forced marriage.
In a finding that may surprise some people, many of the traffickers within Iraq are women, the study says. While some of those have themselves been victims of sexual exploitation, others are in it for the easy money.
Other traffickers are taxi drivers who lure girls with false offers of help and then take them to brothels, or young men recruited by gangs who trick vulnerable young girls into eloping and then sell them into sexual servitude.
Some young victims are tricked into thinking a marriage proposal is genuine, and then after being sexually exploited are swiftly divorced and dumped in the streets, all honor gone in the eyes of conservative Arab society. They are then easy targets for further abuse.
Once in the hands of the traffickers, the victims face a grim future. One girl, identified as (name not mentioned) was left by her father at the Syrian border. She was trafficked to Damascus, where she was raped by five men and sold to a woman who forced her to work as prostitute in nightclubs.
Many women forced into the sex trade then feel trapped, unable to leave because of threats to their family and a lack of any future in a conservative, predominantly Muslim society that tends to see them as to blame for their "shame".
Another cruel practice, particularly in Syria, is the "muta" marriage, in which a girl is married off for a price to a man on a Friday, only for him to divorce her on the Sunday.
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.
Although this particular kind of marriage is not explicitly called prostitution, it is in effect sexual exploitation, often forced, as a means of either securing livelihood, or generating profit."
In a move in the right direction, Syria strengthened its anti-trafficking laws last year and toughened the penalties against men involved in trafficking. However, women who have been forced into prostitution continue to face sanctions too.
Houzan Mahmoud, of the Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, which published its own report on prostitution in Iraq last year, told the hearing the Iraqi government had opposed her group's work and tried to block its access to the media.
So it is time demand, Western governments to do more to put pressure on their Arab counterparts to tackle sexual exploitation, and to ensure they do not send vulnerable asylums seekers back to a situation where they may be trafficked again.
Religious leaders should play a role by using their influence to change attitudes within society rather than demonizing women who are sexually exploited.
Change won't be easy though. At the heart of the issue are the men who are happy to hand over money for sex- and the corrupt officials at borders and elsewhere who turn a blind eye to what's happening to vulnerable women.
The problem is there's a demand for this, there's a market for this. This is about money-making and profits.