Iraq is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Iraqi women and girls are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within the country and in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia. An international organization reported cases of forced prostitution in the city of Tikrit; sex traffickers sell girls and women from Baghdad, Kirkuk, and Syria for the approximate equivalent of $1,000-5,000. Criminal gangs reportedly prostitute girls from outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) in the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah. An Iraqi official revealed that criminal networks have been involved in sex trafficking of boys and girls. An NGO reported that sex traffickers rape women and girls on film and blackmail them into prostitution or recruit them in prisons by posting bail and then forcing them into prostitution via debt bondage. An international organization alleged that police officers and other members of the security forces kidnapped women and girls and forced them into prostitution in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din Provinces. Some women and children are pressured into prostitution by family members to escape desperate economic circumstances. NGOs report that women are prostituted in private residences, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Some women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within Iraq through the use of temporary marriages (muta’a), by which the family of the victim receives money in the form of a dowry in exchange for permission for the woman or girl to be married for a limited period of time, during which she is subjected to labor and sex trafficking. Women are also subjected to forced domestic service through forced marriages and the threat of forced divorce, and women who flee such marriages or whose husbands divorce them are often vulnerable to further forced labor or sexual servitude. Criminal gangs reportedly subject children to forced begging and other types of forced labor.
The large population of internally displaced persons and refugees in Iraq are particularly at risk of being subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. An international organization observed that Syrian refugees in the Domiz refugee camp in Dahuk, Iraq, are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Specifically, women may begin commercially dependent relationships with Iraqi men, men enter into employment without contracts, and children are increasingly pressured to engage in begging. In previous years, some Iraqi refugees in Syria reportedly contracted their daughters to work as maids in Syrian households, where some of them were reportedly raped, forced into prostitution, or subjected to forced labor. In other instances, Iraqi refugees’ children remained in Syria while their parents departed the country in search of improved economic circumstances, leaving the children vulnerable to trafficking. Previously, Iraqi sex trafficking victims deported from Syria on prostitution charges were vulnerable to re-trafficking by criminal gangs operating along the border. Iraqi refugees who involuntarily return to Iraq from Syria are highly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, due in part to the fact that female and child returnees typically do not have a support network or community to which they return.
Iraq is also a destination for men and women who migrate from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Georgia, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Uganda and are subsequently subjected to involuntary servitude as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers. Women from Iran, China, and the Philippines reportedly are subjected to forced prostitution in Iraq. Some foreign migrants are recruited for work in other countries such as Jordan or the Gulf States, but are forced, coerced, or deceived into traveling to Iraq, where their passports are confiscated and their wages withheld, ostensibly to repay labor brokers for the costs of recruitment, transport, food, and lodging. Other foreign migrants are aware they are destined for Iraq, but once in the country, find the terms of employment are not what they expected or the jobs they were promised do not exist, and they are forced to live in work camps with substandard conditions. The Government of Nepal continues to ban its citizens from migrating to Iraq for work.
The Government of Iraq does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but it is making significant efforts to do so. The government conducted some investigations and at least one prosecution under the 2012 anti-trafficking law. The government also established an anti-trafficking department in the interior ministry, which collected human trafficking law enforcement data and operated the newly established anti-trafficking hotline. The inter-ministerial Central Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons was active in furthering the government’s anti-trafficking efforts throughout the reporting period. The committee met multiple times, publicized its meetings to raise awareness about trafficking, and included participants from international organizations, foreign governments, and NGOs. Despite modest improvements in law enforcement efforts, the government failed to investigate or punish government officials complicit in trafficking-related offenses. Moreover, the government demonstrated minimal efforts to identify and assist victims of forced labor and sex trafficking, including those incarcerated for prostitution violations. The government continued to arrest, detain, and prosecute victims of forced prostitution and prohibit NGOs from operating shelters to protect sex trafficking victims. Nonetheless, law enforcement officials worked, on a limited basis, with NGOs and international organizations to refer some victims to protection services. The government also established a location for a temporary and permanent shelter for trafficking victims and drafted shelter guidelines.
Recommendations for Iraq: Continue to use the anti-trafficking law to prosecute human trafficking offenses and convict trafficking offenders, including government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses; institute guidelines for police, labor inspectors, and other officials to proactively identify and refer trafficking victims to protection services, including non-governmental services; open a shelter for trafficking victims at the established location and adequately train shelter staff on victim identification and protection; implement a policy to provide protection to trafficking victims from punishment of crimes committed directly related to being subjected to human trafficking, including forced prostitution and immigration violations; establish a legal framework for NGOs to operate shelters that provide assistance to victims of all forms of trafficking; continue to encourage victims to assist in prosecuting offenders and offer legal alternatives to removal of foreign victims of trafficking; regulate recruitment practices of foreign labor brokers to prevent practices facilitating forced labor; take steps to end the practice of forced and temporary marriages that entrap girls in sexual and domestic servitude; and undertake a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of sex trafficking and forced labor.
The government demonstrated some improved law enforcement efforts against trafficking in persons during the reporting period. Iraq’s anti-trafficking law, which was adopted in April 2012, appears to prohibit some but not all forms of human trafficking. Inconsistent with international standards, the law does not establish facilitating child prostitution as an act of human trafficking, and it is not clear if buying and selling (a transaction) is required for human trafficking to occur. The law prescribes punishments that appear to be sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes such as rape. Additionally, an article in the penal code addresses the forced prostitution of a child; the penalty is up to 10 years’ imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent to deter this activity, though not commensurate with the penalties prescribed for rape. For the first time, the government collected data on investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenders. Authorities reported at least seven sex trafficking investigations, five forced child begging investigations, and one domestic servitude investigation during the reporting period. The government also initiated five forced child begging prosecutions using kidnapping and terrorism statutes. An international organization reported that there were at least two more sex trafficking prosecutions under the anti-trafficking law. A forced labor prosecution from the previous reporting period remained active, in which the investigative judge authorized that the victims’ testimonies be taken in Ukraine for use in the trial. The government reportedly initiated at least one sex trafficking prosecution under the anti-trafficking law; this was noteworthy, as the “clients” who frequented the sex trafficking venue allegedly included some government officials. In September 2012, security forces arrested and detained a group accused of kidnapping Iraqi women and girls and forcing them into prostitution in brothels in Baghdad, as well as forcing them into prostitution in neighboring countries. The primary suspect was charged with human trafficking under the anti-trafficking law, as well as with multiple other offenses. The case was referred to criminal court in February 2013. In October 2012, an international organization reported a recruitment company trafficked multiple Ugandan women to Iraq under false promises of work and subsequently forced them into domestic servitude by confiscating their passports, withholding their wages, and verbally, physically, and sexually abusing them. At the end of the reporting period, the government reported initiating an investigation of this company. Notwithstanding these efforts, the government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of public officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period, despite multiple allegations of complicity. A local NGO alleged that some law enforcement officials knowingly patronized brothels in Baghdad where women were forced into prostitution; and an international organization alleged that security officials forced women and girls into prostitution in Kirkuk and Salah ad-Din provinces. Additionally, Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) ministry officials reported that some KRG officials accepted bribes or ignored labor violations, some of which may include trafficking offenses.
The government established an anti-trafficking department within the Ministry of Interior during the reporting period; the department issued orders to every police station to identify a point of contact for trafficking cases in order to streamline procedures and ensure information-sharing of cases. Because many judicial investigators continued to view women and children in forced prostitution as criminals, the inter-ministerial committee sent a request to the Higher Judicial Council to inform judicial officials to proactively use the anti-trafficking law to protect victims from being prosecuted for trafficking offenses. While the government did not fund anti-trafficking training efforts, it provided facilities and in-kind assistance for anti-trafficking awareness and victim identification and assistance trainings that were funded by international organizations, NGOs, and foreign governments. Participants in multiple trainings throughout the year included officials from the inter-ministerial committee, law enforcement agencies, and the judiciary.
The Iraqi government demonstrated progress in its efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period, including identifying and referring some trafficking victims to NGO protection services, as well as identifying the location for a temporary and permanent shelter for trafficking victims and drafting shelter guidelines; however, victim punishment and maltreatment of NGOs were serious deficiencies. The government did not provide funding or in-kind assistance to NGOs providing victim protection services, and the government prohibited NGOs from running shelters that provided protective services to sex trafficking victims. As a result, these shelters remained vulnerable to prosecution and unprotected from threats of violence by extremist groups. The government identified at least 20 trafficking victims in this reporting period, an improvement from previous years when the government did not report proactively identifying any trafficking victims. Similarly, the Ministry of Human Rights retroactively identified 16 sex trafficking victims among 49 women previously convicted and imprisoned on prostitution charges. The ministry recommended to the Higher Judicial Council that their cases be reopened under the framework of the anti-trafficking law; at the end of the reporting period, the disposition of these victims’ cases was unclear.
The government drafted a national trafficking victim referral mechanism, though it was not finalized at the end of this reporting period and, as a result, government authorities did not employ systematic procedures to guide law enforcement officials to identify proactively victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as women arrested for prostitution and foreign workers. Nonetheless, NGOs reported that some government officials and police cooperated with NGOs on a limited basis, including ad hoc referral of sex and labor trafficking victims for protection services. While government officials acknowledged for the first time the problem of sex trafficking in Iraq, some still viewed women and children in forced prostitution as criminals, rather than victims of trafficking. Victims of trafficking were incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts such as engaging in prositution, committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. An international organization reported that sentences for prostitution violations were excessively harsh, such as 15 years’ to life imprisonment. Officials initially arrested and charged with prostitution some of the women and girls subjected to sex trafficking; however, some were later referred to protection services or released from custody, and criminal charges against them were dropped. A government official reported that police commonly mistreated or abused detainees during interrogation, including both perpetrators and victims of trafficking. Detained sex trafficking victims were also at risk of being re-trafficked, as prisons were a common source for recruiters of prostitution rings. Upon release from prison, female victims of forced prostitution had difficulty finding assistance, especially in cases where the victim’s family had sold her into prostitution.
Authorities placed child trafficking victims in protective facilities, orphanages, foster care, or in juvenile detention centers. International organizations and NGOs reported that victims of forced labor reportedly were arrested, fined, jailed, given lengthy prison sentences, or deported for immigration violations as a result of being subjected to human trafficking. The government did not provide them with protection services, including medical services. However, in January 2013, the Ministry of Health officially instructed every governorate to establish victim support units in government-run health facilities to oversee the provision of medical and psychological assistance to trafficking victims, and in March 2013 the first two victim support units were established in Baghdad.
The 2013 federal budget, passed in March 2013, allocated funding designated for victim protection and assistance. During this reporting period, the government identified a former orphanage in Baghdad to be used as the first temporary shelter for trafficking victims; it drafted internal guidelines for the management and operation of the facility and training manuals for shelter staff, as well as provided security to protect the shelter. The government similarly located a site for a permanent trafficking shelter, though the construction of this facility had not begun at the end of this reporting period. The KRG continued to operate women’s shelters in the IKR that provided some protection and assistance for victims of gender-based violence, including female victims of trafficking, though space was limited and service delivery was poor. It was unclear how many trafficking victims, if any, the shelters assisted in this reporting period. Elsewhere in the country, local NGOs and international organizations continued to provide all available care for trafficking victims, including shelter. Sixteen family protection units continued to operate in police stations around the country to assist women and children who were victims of trafficking and abuse, yet the units did not have a referral system to provide victims with adequate protective services, such as legal aid or shelter; the number of victims assisted by these units, if any, was unclear. The government encouraged some victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions. For example, in one case it sent a prosecutor to Ukraine to collect victim testimony. The government did not offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. The government deported some forced labor victims during the reporting period.
The Government of Iraq made improved efforts to prevent human trafficking through establishing an inter-ministerial committee and an anti-trafficking hotline during the year. In May 2012, the government formed the inter-ministerial committee to serve as the national coordinating body on trafficking and to oversee implementation of the anti-trafficking law; the committee met eight times in the reporting period. The committee also televised three of its meetings to raise awareness about trafficking among the public, and it invited international organizations, foreign governments, and NGOs to participate in meetings, as well as a representative of the KRG to be a permanent committee member. The committee also co-chaired an international anti-trafficking working group, in cooperation with an international organization, to coordinate assistance on anti-trafficking efforts with the international community. KRG officials reported that law enforcement officials shut down some businesses and labor brokers in the IKR that were implicated in alleged forced labor offenses, though it did not prosecute any such labor brokers for fraudulent recruitment or forced labor offenses. In an effort to improve understanding of forced prostitution in Iraq, the Ministry of Human Rights conducted and made public a study on the applicability of the anti-trafficking law in cases involving forced prostitution that included interviews with women convicted on prostitution charges, some of whom were identified trafficking victims. The government established an anti-trafficking hotline to report trafficking offenses, which was advertised on state television and various ministries’ websites. An international organization reported that the hotline was operational and calls were routed directly to the anti-trafficking department. The Ministry of Human Rights also reported that it issued new guidelines to its human rights hotline operators on referring trafficking cases. The government did not conduct any anti-trafficking public awareness or education campaigns. The government did not take measures to reduce the participation of Iraqi nationals in child sex tourism in Iraq or abroad.