Iraq is a source and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking, and men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. Iraqi women and girls are subjected to sex and labor trafficking within the country and in 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 equivalent of approximately $1,000-5,000. Criminal gangs reportedly force girls from outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) into prostitution in the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and Sulaymaniyah. 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. An NGO reported in previous years 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 through debt bondage. Some women and children are pressured into prostitution by family members to escape desperate economic circumstances. NGOs report that women are forced into prostitution in private residences, brothels, restaurants, and places of entertainment. Some women and girls are sold into “temporary marriages” within Iraq—primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation, prostitution, or domestic servitude—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. 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 in Iraq. On at least one occasion, a terrorist group recruited teenagers to take part in violent activities, to include serving as suicide bombers.
The large population of internally displaced persons and refugees in Iraq are particularly at risk of being subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Iraqi refugees who involuntarily return to Iraq from Syria are highly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking in Iraq, due in part to the fact that female and child returnees typically do not have a support network or community to which they return. The growing population of Syrian refugee men, women, and children are highly vulnerable to trafficking, as the Iraqi government restricts their access to work permits; thus, some women enter into marriages with Iraqi men for lower dowries, men enter into employment without legal work contracts, and children are increasingly pressured to engage in begging. In 2013, NGOs and local media reported several alleged sex trafficking cases involving young Syrian refugee girls in the IKR and central provinces of Iraq. Taxicab drivers in the IKR reportedly play a role in forcing young female Syrian refugees into prostitution. In addition, there are some Syrian refugee girls from refugee camps in the IKR who are forced into early or “temporary marriages” with Iraqi men.
Iraq is a destination country for men and women who migrate primarily from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Pakistan, Georgia, Jordan, Ethiopia, and Uganda; these men and women are subsequently forced to work as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers. 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 in substandard conditions. Anecdotal reporting suggests that the economic growth in the IKR attracts an increased number of foreign migrants into the region, many of whom are vulnerable to forced labor. Some workers migrate to Iraq through Iran under false offers of employment, but upon arrival in the IKR, they have no such job offer or are paid little to no wages. Some migrant workers, particularly from Bangladesh, are recruited to work in the IKR through companies located in the UAE; some reported that their employers confiscated their passports and paid them low wages. Women primarily from Iran, China, and the Philippines reportedly are forced into prostitution in Iraq.
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 inter-ministerial Central Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons continued to meet and it included participation from Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) officials and an international organization. The government also opened a temporary trafficking shelter in this reporting period. The government made limited efforts to investigate trafficking offenders—including government officials who may have been complicit in trafficking-related offenses—but did not prosecute any offenders in 2013 under the 2012 anti-trafficking law or other relevant laws, compared with at least one prosecution in 2012. The government initiated investigations of at least 11 suspects of sex trafficking. The government continued to arrest, detain, prosecute, convict, and deport victims of forced prostitution and forced labor, with no discernible efforts to identify victims of trafficking. Likewise, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims in 2013, a decrease from 2012. Government inaction resulted in a failure to protect victims. The government also did not refer any victims to protection services, including the government shelter, which consequently remained vacant throughout the year. The government’s law enforcement efforts and capability to monitor trafficking cases in this reporting period was hindered by a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks by al-Qa’ida and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which led to the deaths of over 10,000 civilians in 2013, and the influx of approximately 200,000 Syrian refugees.
Recommendations for Iraq:
Significantly increase investigations of human trafficking crimes, and continue to use the anti-trafficking law to prosecute trafficking offenses and convict trafficking offenders, including government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses; implement a policy to ensure that victims of sex trafficking and forced labor are not punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, including prostitution and immigration violations; institute guidelines for police, labor inspectors, social workers, and other officials to proactively identify and refer victims to protection services, including non-governmental services; provide adequate protection services, such as shelter and legal aid, to all victims of trafficking, including men, women, and children; ensure that trafficking victims are referred to the government shelter and receive adequate protection services at the facility, and train shelter staff on victim identification and protection; establish a legal framework for NGOs to operate shelters that provide assistance to victims of all forms 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; encourage victims to assist in prosecuting offenders and offer legal alternatives to removal of foreign victims of trafficking; and undertake a public awareness campaign to raise awareness of sex trafficking and forced labor.
The government demonstrated decreased law enforcement efforts against trafficking in persons and failed to investigate and punish government officials complicit in trafficking-related crimes. Iraq’s 2012 anti-trafficking law appears to prohibit some, but not all, forms of human trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, the law does not make facilitating child prostitution an act of human trafficking, and appears to require a transaction (buying and selling) 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. The government did not report efforts to investigate, prosecute, or convict human trafficking offenses in this reporting period. The government reported that the decrease in law enforcement efforts was due, in part, to an increase in violence committed by al-Qaida and ISIL terrorists in this reporting period. In January 2014, the Ministry of Interior (MOI) arrested 11 members of a sex trafficking gang in Baghdad. The MOI reported that the Higher Judicial Council issued an arrest warrant and, at the end of the reporting period, the MOI was awaiting action by the judiciary to further investigate the case and collect evidence before sentencing the suspects under the anti-trafficking law. Although an international organization reported in October 2013 that police arrested an employer for withholding four foreign workers’ passports and travel documents, officials did not pursue an investigation of the employer or refer the case to prosecution for forced labor offenses. In 2013, a MOI office in Basrah established a committee to investigate allegations of companies abusing foreign workers in domestic servitude and in the construction industry—some of whom may be trafficking victims; however, the government arrested and deported the abused workers for immigration violations, and it was unclear if the companies were punished. The absence of prosecution efforts in 2013 is a significant change from the previous reporting period in which authorities reported 13 trafficking investigations and seven trafficking prosecutions; five of the prosecutions from 2012 remained pending at the end of this reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking, despite multiple allegations of complicity. There was an anecdotal report that some law enforcement officials allegedly patronized brothels in Baghdad where they were aware that women were forced into prostitution, or officials ignored signs of sex trafficking occurring in locations that openly facilitated prostitution. Additionally, in the IKR, officials reported that some KRG officials accepted bribes or ignored labor violations, some of which may include trafficking offenses. MOI continued to operate an anti-trafficking department, established in 2012; the department did not share statistics on the government’s trafficking cases in 2013. The government conducted anti-trafficking trainings and also provided facilities and in-kind assistance for international organizations and NGOs to conduct multiple trainings for officials on the anti-trafficking law and victim identification.
The government’s efforts to identify victims of trafficking decreased, and punishment of victims remained a serious problem. The government did not proactively identify trafficking victims or have formal written procedures to guide officials in the identification of victims among high-risk persons with whom they came in contact, including undocumented foreign migrants and women arrested on prostitution charges. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims in 2013 or provide a specific number of victims identified as it did in 2012; however, the government shared anecdotal information and press reports on the identification of victims of forced labor. Victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor were arrested, incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as prostitution and immigration violations. While some government officials acknowledged the problem of sex trafficking in Iraq, many government officials—including judicial investigators—still viewed women and children in forced prostitution as criminals, rather than victims of trafficking. An international organization reported that many KRG judges refused to accept that coercion was a defense for a victim in cases involving sexual exploitation. An international organization reported that sentences for prostitution violations were excessively harsh, ranging from 15 years’ to life imprisonment. A government official reported that police commonly mistreated or abused detainees during interrogation, including both perpetrators and unidentified victims of trafficking. 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. In addition, Iraqi authorities reportedly detained or convicted foreign workers for immigration violations, with no effort to identify potential trafficking victims among them; offenders were routinely given sentences of at least three to five years’ imprisonment. For example, in the first six months of 2013, authorities arrested and deported 247 foreign workers for immigration violations, even though the workers reported they were abused by their employers; authorities made no effort to identify potential forced labor victims among them. Similarly, in this reporting period, authorities arrested a Ugandan woman who ran away from her employer and alleged that she had been brought to work in Iraq under false pretenses and was subjected to domestic servitude; because her employer had confiscated her passport, leaving her without legal documentation, police detained her for immigration violations.
The government did not provide adequate protection services during the reporting period, nor did it provide funding or in-kind assistance to NGOs providing victim protection services. NGO shelters remained vulnerable to prosecution and unprotected from threats of violence by extremist groups. Although the government’s first temporary shelter for trafficking victims was officially opened in 2013, officials reported that no victims were assisted at the shelter. The construction of a permanent trafficking shelter, whose location was identified in 2012, did not begin in 2013. In Kirkuk, local police forces reportedly ran temporary shelters for foreign workers awaiting repatriation, though these facilities did not provide specialized protection services for potential victims of trafficking among this group of workers. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) also operated temporary shelters for vulnerable populations, including trafficking victims, in Basrah, Baghdad, Ninewa, and Kirkuk provinces, though it is unclear how many trafficking victims were provided services at these shelters in 2013. 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, service delivery was poor, and they were not available for Syrian trafficking victims. It was unclear how many trafficking victims, if any, the shelters assisted in this reporting period. Two Ministry of Health-operated trafficking victim support units—established in March 2013 to oversee the provision of medical and psychological assistance to victims—did not report efforts to identify and assist victims in this reporting period. Sixteen family protection units continued to operate in police stations around the country to assist women and children who were victims of abuse and trafficking, yet the units did not have an identification and referral system to provide trafficking victims with adequate protective services; the number of trafficking victims assisted by these units was unclear. Though the government drafted a national trafficking victim referral mechanism in 2012, it was not finalized or implemented during the year that elapsed since its drafting. Nonetheless, some government officials and police, including KRG officials, reportedly cooperated with NGOs on a limited basis, including ad hoc referral of sex and labor trafficking victims for protection services; however, it was unclear how many victims were referred in 2013. In addition, the MOI cooperated with an international organization to facilitate the repatriation of one Ugandan trafficking victim, including by waiving exit visa requirements. The government did not report if it encouraged victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions. The government did not provide foreign victims relief from deportation or offer foreign victims legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.
The government made some efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government’s inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee, the Central Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons (CCCT), which served as the national coordinating body on trafficking and oversaw implementation of the anti-trafficking law, met six times in the reporting period; a KRG representative attended three of these meetings, while an international organization was invited to be a permanent observer on the committee. The CCCT introduced training courses on anti-trafficking to CCCT members and subcommittees, as well as MOI officials. It developed an anti-trafficking public awareness campaign by working with Shia and Sunni religious endowments to introduce trafficking issues during Friday religious sermons; however, the government did not conduct the campaign by the end of the reporting period. Despite these efforts, the government did not allocate funding for the CCCT in 2013. The Ministry of Human Rights issued a public statement in 2013 expressing serious concern about the conditions and treatment of foreign workers in Iraq, and it advised the Shura Council that the rights of foreign workers should be incorporated in Iraq’s new draft labor law, which remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline, established in the previous reporting period, which was routed to the MOI anti-trafficking department; the hotline was advertised on state television and various ministries’ websites, but it received no phone calls during the reporting period. In 2013, the KRG also established a hotline for workers to report labor violations and abuse, but it did not report if any potential trafficking victims were identified through this hotline. The government did not report efforts to punish labor recruiters or brokers involved in the recruitment of workers through fraudulent or exploitative means. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, but it did not take measures to reduce the demand for forced labor or to address the participation of Iraqi nationals in child sex tourism in Iraq or abroad.