Human Trafficking in Iraq: Isn’t It Ironic, Don’t You Think?

Every year, the U.S. State Department releases a Trafficking in Persons report which rates countries on their efforts to combat human trafficking.  Each week, I’ll be providing a brief glance at human trafficking in one of those countries, based off the 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report, with my own (often snarky) analysis added.  This is just a snapshot of what’s going on in the country.  For more information, you can check out the full text of the 2009 Trafficking in Persons Report here.

This Week’s Country …  Iraq

Basic Info

The U.S. State Department ranks Iraq on the Tier 2 Watchlist, meaning the government isn’t doing enough to combat trafficking, but they’re at least giving the issue something between lip service and the old college try. Of course, the government in Iraq right now is arguably as much American as it is Iraqi, so I’m pretty sure we are at least as much to blame for the rampant trafficking which goes on there as they are. And since a lot of trafficking has taken place in companies which are building U.S. projects and guarding U.S. bases, perhaps we have even more culpability than we’d like to admit. Still, because of the extreme unrest, general lack of infrastructure, and arguably American military presence, Iraq is a source and destination country for trafficking victims, both internationally and internally. Ironic, huh?

So does Iraq have the political and economic stability to truly tackle trafficking? According to the U.S., they don’t even have the stability to govern themselves without assistance, so how can we expect them to create and enforce sound policies to fight human trafficking? Maybe the answer is not to ask what Iraq should be doing, but rather what the U.S. should be doing to put them in a position to fight trafficking once we leave. Which according to Obama’s new timetable, should be … well, it’s gotta happen eventually, right?

Who Are the Victims and What Are They Doing?

Iraqi women and girls are trafficked internally and abroad for forced commercial sex. The sex trafficking industry in Iraq has been found to go especially young, with girls as young as 11 enslaved in brothels and private homes. However, even more prevalent than forced commercial sex for women and girls is forced marriage, where the victim is usually forced to both work in domestic servitude and have sex with her husband, even if he is many years her senior. Young boys are also trafficked for sexual exploitation and street begging. Boys and adult men have been forced into labor in a number of industries, including for U.S. government contractors. Women are also trafficked for forced labor, but not as often as forced marriage or commercial sexual exploitation.

Where Are They Coming From and Where Are They Going?

Human trafficking in Iraq is more ironic than the fact that all the examples in that Alanis Morrissette song aren’t ironic, just unfortunate. Women and children are trafficked for commercial sex to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Turkey, and Iran — all countries which frown upon any sex outside of marriage. Boys are trafficked for forced sex to many of these countries as well, most of which have homophobic laws on the books and in which same-sex sexual relations are condemned. Furthermore, a lot of labor trafficking has taken place within U.S. government contractors, the same body which issued this report condemning Iraq for not doing enough to fight trafficking. A little too ironic? Yeah, I really do think.

What’s Gotta Happen?

First of all, Iraq needs to get actual laws on the books that criminalize trafficking and then, you guessed it, enforce those laws. They also need to develop protections for victims, so they aren’t deported or otherwise punished for crimes related to their trafficking. Yes, this means than a woman forced into prostitution can’t be arrested for “being a prostitute.” Iraq should pay special attention to the issue of forced marriage, which is both legally and culturally ingrained in the society. Both legal and social changes are needed to prevent young girls from being exploited and abused in both marriage and commercial sex. And I’ll add that the U.S. government needs to keep a better eye on their contractors, and make sure they weren’t contributing to the trafficking they’re trying to fight in Iraq.

Photo credit: U.S. Army



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