As reported over the past five years, Iran is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Iranian women, boys, and girls are vulnerable to trafficking in Iran, Afghanistan, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR), Pakistan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Europe. In 2016 and 2017, there was a reported increase in young Iranian women in prostitution in Dubai; some of these women are trafficking victims, experiencing confiscation of passports and threats of violence. Reports suggest that Iranian women are also vulnerable to sex trafficking in Turkey, particularly in Turkish cities close to the Iranian border. Media reports from 2015 and 2016 noted Iranian girls were subjected to sex trafficking in brothels in the IKR, especially Sulaimaniya; in some cases this exploitation was facilitated by Iranian trafficking networks. The media and regional experts reported in 2015 that officials from the Kurdistan Regional Government were among the clients of these brothels. Some Iranian women who seek employment to support their families in Iran, as well as young Iranian women and girls who run away from their homes, are vulnerable to sex trafficking. The use of “temporary” or “short-term” marriages, lasting from one hour to one week, for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, is reportedly widespread in Iran. Reports suggest that police and other Iranian authorities, religious clerics, and parents of victims are allegedly involved in or turn a blind eye to sex trafficking crimes. According to a regional scholar, trafficking rings reportedly use Shiraz, Iran, as a transit point to bring ethnic Azeri girls from Azerbaijan to the UAE for commercial sexual exploitation.
Street children in Iran are highly vulnerable to trafficking. The number of children working in transport, garbage and waste disposal, brick factories, construction, and the carpet industry is reportedly increasing; these children may be exposed to harmful working conditions and some may be vulnerable to trafficking. Organized criminal groups kidnap or purchase and force Iranian and migrant children, especially undocumented Afghan children, to work as beggars and street vendors in cities, including Tehran. These children, who may be as young as three years old, are coerced through physical and sexual abuse and drug addiction. Reports indicate that some children are also used in illegal activities, such as drug trafficking and smuggling of fuel and tobacco.
Afghan migrants, including women and children, are highly vulnerable to forced labor, debt bondage, and sex trafficking, while Pakistani migrants are also vulnerable to forced labor in Iran. Afghan girls are vulnerable to forced marriage with men living in Iran, which frequently led to forced labor, domestic servitude, and commercial sexual exploitation. Afghan boys in Iran are vulnerable to forced labor in the service industry, such as car washing, domestic work, and drug trafficking, experiencing debt bondage, non-payment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. Afghan boys in Iran are also vulnerable to sexual abuse by their employers and harassment or blackmailing by the Iranian security services and other government officials. Traffickers subject Afghan migrants, including children, to forced labor in construction and agriculture in Iran. Trafficking networks smuggle Afghan nationals living in Iran to Europe and force them to work in restaurants to pay off debts incurred by smuggling fees. Pakistani men and women migrants in low-skilled employment, such as domestic work and construction, are targeted by organized groups and subjected to forced labor, debt bondage, restriction of movement, non-payment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. Increasingly, despite labor code protections for registered foreign workers, employers seek adjustable contracts that increase these workers’ vulnerability to exploitative work practices such as coerced overtime and denial of work benefits.
An international organization and the media continue to report the Iranian government coerced male adult and child Afghans resident in Iran, including boys as young as 13 years old, to fight in Iranian-sponsored Shia militias deployed to Syria by threatening them with arrest and deportation to Afghanistan. Since 2015, the Iranian government has provided funding to the militia Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) —also known as the League of the Righteous—operating in Iraq; according to civil society organizations and local contacts in Iraq in 2017, certain brigades within the AAH recruited children mostly out of schools for use in combat. In 2015 and 2016, AAH reportedly organized training camps in southern Iraq for high school and university students, some of whom may have been under the age of 18. According to an Iraq-based source in 2016, the Iranian government also provided funding to the militia Abu Fadhl al-Abbas Brigades, which used children in combat on the front-line in Fallujah, Iraq in 2016.