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 violent conflict with ISIS exacerbated the population’s vulnerability to trafficking, in particular women and children, although the government’s territorial defeat of the terrorist group, announced December 9, 2017, has improved conditions for Iraqi civilians. Since January 2014, more than five million Iraqis have been displaced, with approximately 2.1 million still displaced as of April 2018. In addition, more than 248,000 Syrian refugees remained displaced in Iraq, the vast majority in the IKR. Since 2014, ISIS militants have kidnapped and held captive thousands of women and children from a wide range of ethnic and religious groups, especially Yezidis, 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 in the last few years that ISIS sold some captives to wealthy individuals in Gulf countries, and 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 2015-2017, thousands of women and children escaped ISIS captivity—many of whom were pregnant as a result of rape and sex trafficking. Some became IDPs because ISIS still controlled their homelands. Those who remain IDPs continue to be 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. These children are also highly vulnerable to arrest, detention, and prosecution; at the end of March 2017, an international organization reported 943 children, including four girls, remained in detention on terrorism-related charges across the country. ISIS continues to abduct and forcibly recruit and use children in combat and support roles, including as human shields, informants, bomb makers, executioners, and suicide bombers; some of these children are as young as 8 years old and some are mentally disabled. ISIS continues 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. As of early 2018, multiple sources reported the PKK and YPG operating in the IKR continued to recruit and use children. In mid-2017, international observers witnessed armed 16-year-old boys affiliated to the PKK. As reported by an international NGO in late 2016, the PKK and Sinjar Resistance Units—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.
Since 2015, sources continue to report that PMF units recruit, use, and provide military training to children. An expert in Baghdad assessed that the rate of such recruitment and use of children did not change in 2017. Civil society organizations and local contacts reported in 2017 that posters commemorating minors who died while fighting for Shia militias were commonplace in Shia-majority areas of Baghdad and throughout southern Iraq. Most of the children who were celebrated for fighting allegedly fought for brigades of the AAH and KH militias. Some AAH and KH members or brigades recruit children, most commonly out of schools. Sources reported that AAH and KH militias, which had units both within the PMF and operating independently, recruited and used child soldiers in 2017. According to the PMF official social media site and posters in the street in mid-2017, the PMF offered military training courses to children and youth ages 15-25. In April 2017, an international organization received credible reports that Sunni tribal militias recruited 300 boys aged 15-17 from Kilo 18 IDP camp. In 2017, some IDPs reported that some Sunni tribal militias recruited children out of camps for military training, with the possibility of joining armed groups upon completing the training. In mid-2017, international observers witnessed five boys manning checkpoints at an IDP camp in Ninewa; whose security was reportedly run by an official that fell under the PMF. In August 2017, there were unverified reports that PMF militias provided a three-month military training to 100 Shia Turkoman teenage boys, between the ages of 13-18, in several Kirkuk governorate towns. In 2015 and 2016, multiple sources reported factions of the PMF used children in operations in Fallujah and other areas of the country, while PMF-affiliated media celebrated the service and sacrifice of child soldiers. An international organization reported a total of 57 children were recruited and used in 2016 by groups operating under the umbrella of the PMF, most of whom received military training and were deployed for combat, while 12 children were recruited by tribal mobilization groups, including from internally displaced persons camps. As reported in 2015 and 2016, some PMF groups accepted children into their ranks from poor neighborhoods in Basrah, who left school to “volunteer” for the PMF; many of them viewed this as fulfilling a religious duty, while others viewed it as a way to earn a living and gain greater social status. According to NGOs and tribal force commanders in 2015, children fighting with the PMF were unregistered and did not receive state benefits or regular salaries. In August 2016, an international NGO reported that Sunni tribal militias affiliated with the PMF recruited at least seven children from the Debaga IDP camp in northern Iraq; witness accounts reported that Iraqi Security Forces members facilitated the recruitment of children from the camp.
Refugees and IDPs face heightened risk of trafficking due to their economic and social vulnerability and lack of security and protections. 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. In 2016, NGOs reported 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 women in IDP camps, whose family members have alleged ties to ISIS, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse by armed actors residing in the camps. Some Syrian refugee men enter 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 for them; 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. Reports continue to suggest some Iraqi law enforcement officials have allegedly frequented brothels known for sex trafficking or accepted bribes to allow sex trafficking. 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. 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. Criminal gangs reportedly force children to beg and sell drugs in Iraq. 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 MOLSA 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 in January 2016 that 69 percent of 480 foreign workers surveyed in the IKR had not been paid their agreed salaries and 18 percent reported violent acts committed against them by their employers. The Commission reported that it did not issue a report in 2017 due to the KRG budget crisis.