As reported over the past five years, Iraq is a source and destination country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking and men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. The ongoing violent conflict with ISIS continues to gravely increase the population’s vulnerability to trafficking, in particular women and children. As of January 2017, more than 3.03 million Iraqis were displaced across the country, and more than 225,000 Syrian refugees remained displaced in the IKR. ISIS militants have kidnapped and held captive thousands of women and children from a wide range of ethnic and religious groups, especially from the Yezidi community and continue to sell them to ISIS fighters in Iraq and Syria, where they are subjected to forced marriage, sexual slavery, rape, and domestic servitude. There are reports ISIS executed captives if they refused to marry fighters. The media has reported that ISIS sold some captives to wealthy individuals in Gulf countries, while unverified reports suggested that some Yezidi captives have been moved to Syria, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. ISIS maintained an organized system to buy and sell women and girls for sexual slavery, including sales contracts notarized by ISIS-run courts. In 2015 and 2016, thousands of women and children escaped ISIS captivity—many of whom were pregnant as a result of rape and sex trafficking—and became IDPs because ISIS still controlled their homelands; these victims remain highly vulnerable to various forms of exploitation, including re-trafficking.
Children remain highly vulnerable to forcible recruitment and use by multiple armed groups operating in Iraq, including—but not limited to—ISIS, the PMF, tribal forces, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), and Iran-backed militias. ISIS continued to abduct and forcibly recruit and use children in combat and support roles, including as human shields, informants, bomb makers, and suicide bombers; some of these children are as young as 8 years old and some are mentally disabled. In 2015 and 2016, an international organization and media reported that ISIS forced hundreds of boys from the Ninewa Governorate to guard checkpoints and serve as informants and suicide bombers. ISIS continued to train children at military training and indoctrination camps; numerous media reports and public videos show children attending these camps. In January 2017, international media and KRG sources reported that ISIS abducted 400 Yezidi children and trained them for combat roles, including as suicide bombers, while in the same month ISIS abducted 150 children from Tal Afar and forcibly recruited them into a training camp.
NGOs, an international organization, and the media report factions of the PMF recruit and use children under the age of 18 in operations in Fallujah and other areas of the country, while PMF-affiliated media continue to celebrate the service and sacrifice of child soldiers. In April 2016, an international organization verified 12 reported cases of recruitment and use of children by militias affiliated with the PMF, and noted that some of those children had been killed in combat. In July 2016, an international organization also verified five additional cases of recruitment and use of children by militias affiliated with PMF units who took direct part in hostilities. Some PMF groups accepted children into their ranks from poor neighborhoods in Basrah, who leave school to “volunteer” for the PMF; many of them view this as fulfilling a religious duty, while others view it as a way to earn a living and gain greater social status. According to NGOs and tribal force commanders, children fighting with the PMF are unregistered and do not receive state benefits or regular salaries. In August 2016, an international NGO reported that Sunni tribal militias affiliated with the PMF had recruited at least seven children from the Debaga IDP camp in northern Iraq. Witness accounts reported that Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) members facilitated the recruitment of children from the camp. The PKK and Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS)—a Yezidi armed militia group—forcibly recruited and used Kurdish and Yezidi boys and girls, some as young as 12 years old, in combat and support roles in northern Iraq. According to an international organization and the media, the Iraqi government reportedly pays the salaries of the YBS.
Refugees and IDPs face heightened risk of trafficking due to their economic and social vulnerability. NGOs report trafficking networks in the IKR target refugees and IDPs, operating with assistance from local officials, including judges, officials from the Asayish forces, and border agents. In 2015, members of the IKR Parliament and NGOs reported some personnel from the Asayish forces facilitated the sex trafficking of women and girls in Syrian refugee camps in the IKR, primarily in Domiz refugee camp, as well as sex trafficking of girls outside of the camps. NGOs report Asayish guards not only allowed men to enter a camp to solicit commercial sex with refugee girls, but the guards also solicited sex from the refugee girls, including granting them permission to leave the camp in exchange for sex. Reports from 2015 indicated IDPs and some Syrian refugee women were forced into prostitution by a trafficking network in hotels and brothels in Baghdad, Basrah, and other cities in southern Iraq after agents of the network promised to resettle them from the IKR; the women’s children were also forced to beg on the street. Some Syrian refugee men entered into employment without legal work contracts in Iraq, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. Some displaced Iraqi families reportedly sell their children to other families to secure better futures; these children are at risk of trafficking.
Traditional practices, including child forced and “temporary” marriages and fasliya—the exchange of family members to settle tribal disputes—also place women and girls at increased risk of trafficking within the country. For example, in October 2016, the media reported a girl from the Nada tribe in Maysan Province was forced to marry a man of another tribe as a resolution for the killing of a man by someone in the Nada tribe. Child protection organizations continue to report incidents of child marriage—which could increase a child’s vulnerability to exploitation—increased among IDPs and Syrian refugees in the IKR, as heads of households sought ways to generate income and reduce the family’s economic burden. Syrian girls from refugee camps in the IKR are forced into early or “temporary marriages” with Iraqi or other refugee men; some KRG authorities allegedly ignore, or may accept bribes to ignore, such cases, including those in which girls are sold multiple times. Anecdotal reports also suggest some Iraqi law enforcement officials have allegedly frequented brothels known for sex trafficking or accepted bribes to allow sex trafficking in locations openly facilitating prostitution. Media and other observers reported in 2015 that an Iranian sex trafficking network operated brothels in Erbil where Iranian girls were exploited in commercial sex; the media reported a KRG official allegedly paid $3,000 for an Iranian sex trafficking victim. There were anecdotal reports, including from a June 2016 local television station, of child sex trafficking of girls primarily from Iran and Syria, as well as some from the IKR, in Sulaimaniya. Criminal gangs force children to beg and sell drugs in Iraq, while gangs also exploit teenage girls—including refugee women and girls from camps—throughout the country in sex trafficking. NGOs also report cases in which girls who have run away from their families out of fear of honor killings are exploited in commercial sex by criminal networks. Trafficking networks also reportedly sell Iraqi children in neighboring countries and Europe for commercial sexual exploitation. Iraqi women and girls are also subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the Middle East and Turkey.
Some men and women from throughout Asia and East Africa who migrate to Iraq are subjected to forced labor as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, handymen, and domestic workers. Some foreign migrants are recruited for work in other countries in the region but are forced, coerced, or deceived into working in Iraq and the IKR. In January 2016, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs reported approximately 140,000 foreign workers lacked formal work permits; NGOs reported some employers and recruitment agents exploit workers’ illegal status by withholding salaries and subjecting workers to substandard living conditions. The Kurdistan Independent Human Rights Commission reported 69 percent of 480 foreign workers surveyed in the IKR in January 2016 were not paid their agreed salaries and 18 percent reported violent acts their employers committed against them.