Iraqi prisons are filled with young girls. Some of them were jailed for having relatives with ties to terrorist groups. Others have been charged with crimes ranging from petty to serious. But among the population of Iraqi girls in prison are victims of child sex trafficking, sold into prostitution against their will. In Iraq, imprisoning victims too often passes for justice.
One of those girls is 15-year-old Zenia. Two years ago, her father took her to Syria to visit her grandfather. But when they arrived, Zenia learned that this was no average family trip. Her family had brought her to Syria to sell her to a sex trafficker, who took her from Syria to the United Arab Emirates. There, Zenia was forced into prostitution.
Distraught and desperately looking for a way to escape, Zenia fled her captors and contacted the police in the UAE. Sure, prostitution is illegal in both the UAE and Iraq, but Zenia was just a child forced into it against her will. Surely the police would understand?
They didn’t. Zenia was unceremoniously deported to Baghdad. And when she arrived, her reward for summoning the courage to escape slavery, to protect herself from abuse, and notify the police about criminal activity, was rewarded with a two year prison sentence. Apparently, in Iraq, this passes for justice.
Zenia is not alone. The two female juvenile prisons in Baghdad are filled with victims of human trafficking and related crimes. Many are charged with prostitution or similar offenses. In Iraq, there is little understanding of women who have been trafficked as victims of a crime in need of support. They are routinely treated like criminals, despite proactive attempts to cooperate with law enforcement. One girl actually realized, while her father was in the process of selling her to a broker, that she was being trafficked, and immediately contacted the authorities. He raped her as retribution, and in the struggle she killed him. She’s serving a 15 year sentence.
Yet despite two jails populated with young girls who have been sold into slavery, Iraq has yet to prosecute a single human trafficker. They made no effort to track down Zenia’s father or grandfather, or the man they sold her to in the UAE. And why should they, when they can so easily and neatly blame the victim of the crime and lock her up?
Photo credit: koshyk