For Sale--Iraqi Girls: Dislocated, Dispossessed, and Desperate
by krobin Sun Apr 08, 2007 at 11:51:38 AM PDT

I've written a bit about this topic in the past. However, that was a while ago, and I wanted to bring this topic, one that most want to not think about 'cause it tears at the heart to think about, as a reminder that it's still going on...and little is being done by that new bastion of democracy (aka the Iraqi Government). First, I want to thank Meteor Blades for his diary: "Little Fallujah. Little Mosul. Iraqi Exiles in Syria" and his delineating the ongoing Iraqi refugee situation in Syria:
Two years ago, there were an estimated 700,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria. Today there could be a million. Since 2003, a total of nearly 2 million Iraqis, as reported two weeks ago by the Washington-based Refugees International, have fled Iraq for Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Egypt, Yemen and Turkey. Another 1 million are expected to flee this year. About 1.9 million are displaced within Iraq.
Close to 5 million people. Nearly a fifth of the entire Iraqi population. As might be expected, a truly accurate number is not easy to come by. Perhaps a few hundred thousand more, a few hundred thousand less. Some Iraqis-in-exile, especially those who fled early on, are affluent and have set up businesses in their temporary new abode. For most, however, the basic problems are the same as for exiles everywhere - inadequate shelter, inadequate medical care, inadequate or no education facilities for refugee children. Tens of thousands suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, the pain of separation, fear of the future, the stress of getting by today. For those displaced inside the country, the situation is worse, especially since it is now harder to get out, with Jordan letting in only the sick and very old. Indeed, Peter Kessler, a spokesman for the UNHCR, noted last month that
"We're hearing about drug use, children working, prostitution among women and children,...That adds to the urgency. We need more help and much more attention than we're getting."
And although Syria and Jordan have been very helpful in receiving so many of Iraq's refugees, both countries are having trouble coping with the onslaught of millions of Iraqis. In my last entry, I introduced you to several different people (Farah, Hassan, and Marriam), who via different paths, had fallen prey to the sex trade. Unlike Hassan and Marriam, Farah found herself prostituting herself in a Damascus nightclub:
The story of a Sunni girl from Fallujah selling herself in a Damascus nightclub represents startling new fallout from the Iraq war, one human rights organizations and experts are only beginning to address. An increasing number of young Iraqi women and girls who fled Iraq during the turmoil are turning to prostitution in Syria, although there are no reliable statistics on how many girls are involved. That might partly explain why so little reporting has been done on the topic. For journalists and human rights workers, securing contact with Iraqi sex workers in Syria is difficult and dangerous because the topic is taboo.
And even as there are larger guesstimates as to the #s involved in the Iraqi refugee situation, statistics are incredibly hard to come by when dealing with forbidden topics such as prostitution:
Syrian police either lack data or won't release any figures on prostitution, which isn't surprising considering the closed government.
When it comes to determining how many Iraqi women have become victims to the exploitation of their situation, the numbers game is a tough one that even State's 2005 "Trafficking in Persons Report" "acknowledges the problem." It seems as though
officials have no clear sense of its magnitude. According to the report, "There have been some reports that indicate Iraqi women may be subjected to sexual exploitation in prostitution in Syria at the hands of Iraqi criminal networks, but those reports have not been confirmed."
(don't even get me started on that can neither confirm nor deny stuff)

Recent reports indicate that despite disagreements re: numbers, sex trafficking is ongoing:
The Organization for Women's Freedom in Iraq, based in Baghdad, estimates from anecdotal evidence that more than 2,000 Iraqi women have gone missing in that period. A Western official in Baghdad who monitors the status of women in Iraq thinks that figure may be inflated but admits that sex trafficking, virtually nonexistent under Saddam, has become a serious issue.
At the time, I also introduced a couple different non-governmental organizations that were attempting to make a difference when it came to helping those caught up in the prostitution nightmare. Interviewed by Radio Free Europe, Leila Billing--War Child program coordinator--notes that a survey-study her organization is about to produce shows
RFE/RL: What are the main problems of the children in Iraq, of those kids who were forced onto the street? What picture did you get from this survey of the status of children in the country at the moment? Billing: I think it showed the precise way that this conflict is impacting upon children. It's leading to the increased criminalization and stigmatization of children. For example, we are witnessing high levels of family breakdown and an increase of female-headed households in certain parts of Iraq. And basically what it means is that children are being forced to assume income-generating roles because their families are suffering from acute poverty. That means children leaving school, going out on to the streets and looking for paid work. And it's on the streets where many Iraqi children are being exposed to illegal livelihood activities. Say, for example, boys and girls are engaging in sex work; they are selling weapons on the streets, alcohol, pornography. You know, children as young as eight are involved in these kinds of trades. And it's kind of an economic necessity that is forcing them to do this. Obviously, this results in increased stigmatization of these children because the local community brands them as 'bad children.' And so, not only they are being impacted by poverty and are they being drawn into this criminal activities, they are also facing strong forms of social exclusion. (my emphasis)
These NGOs are faced with a double-edged sword when it comes to helping the women and children of Iraq. And according to Time Magazine, they are running head first into a complicated Iraqi bureacracy that seems to make it harder to assist the women. Meet Amna:
A stunning 18-year-old nicknamed Amna, her black hair pulled back in a ponytail, says she was taken from an orphanage by an armed gang just after the U.S. invasion and sent to brothels in Samarra, al-Qaim on the border with Syria, and Mosul in the north before she was taken back to Baghdad, drugged with pills, dressed in a suicide belt and sent to bomb a cleric's office in Khadamiyah, where she turned herself in to the police. A judge gave her a seven-year jail sentence "for her sake" to protect her from the gang, according to the prison director (Bennett).
Meet Safah: After being dropped off at an orphanage by her grandmother (her father'd died), found herself "adopted" [read kidnapped] by a nurse she believed trustworthy. From the moment of her kidnapping Safah became a commodity to be bought and sold to a guy named Sa'ad:
The next three weeks were the worst in Safah's life. "I was tortured and beaten and insulted a lot in that house," Safah says. She wouldn't provide many details about what happened in the whiskey-soaked den in Karada. But she says that when it became apparent to her that she was about to be sold to Sa'ad, the man on the phone from Dubai, she became desperate (Bennett).
Like Safah, "[t]wo other girls, Asmah, 14, and Shadah, 15, were taken all the way to the United Arab Emirates before they could escape their kidnappers and report them to a Dubai police station" were provided with fake passports that make it complicated for them to wind their way out of the System while their kidnappers walk away. The "safe haven" for the women comes in the guise of the prison they are kept in for their protection. And efforts to create another set of options meet with layers of bureaucratic red tape, which contains huge threats to the security of these women:
Women's advocates are trying to set up halfway houses for kidnap survivors. The locations are secret to keep the women safe from both trafficking gangs trying to cover their tracks and outraged relatives who may try to kill the women to restore their clans' reputation. But the new Iraqi government has set up several bureaucratic roadblocks. Even organizations that do not receive government money have to secure permission from four ministries and the Baghdad city council for every shelter they hope to operate. Wringing her hands in exasperation, activist Yanar Mohammed says, "They want to close our women's shelter and deny our ability to open more" (Bennett).
A while ago, I worked for a halfway house for teenage girls. It was imperative that we not reveal the location of this house in order to protect the young women living in it from numerous outside forces including former pimps and dealers...not to mention abusive family members. By having to go through four ministries as well as the city council, the odds that the location of these houses will stay secret are slim to non-existent. After all,
That Iraqi girls and women are selling sex may not seem shocking, but prostitution is especially taboo for Arab women. "In this culture, to allow your daughter to become a prostitute means you've hit dirt bottom," says Joshua Landis, an American professor from the University of Oklahoma, presently living in Syria. "None of your sisters can get married if it's known that one of them is a prostitute. If there's any public knowledge of this, it's a shame on the whole family." The shame can even lead to "honor killings," in which women are slain by their husbands or relatives for tainting the family name (Bennett).
[Update]: h/t to smintheus for link to Inconvenient News and the post "The worst time ever in Iraqi women's lives," which also links to Code Pink's report "Iraqi Women Under Siege." [Awesome Source!!]