Human Trafficking and Forced Prostitution

Feb 12, 2006 at 09:22 PM
“Human Trafficking and Forced Prostitution” –

Katherine Toliao

Consciousness and concern over the growing global market for sexual slavery is arising across the international community. Mainstream media, the internet, and women’s magazines, in Iran and worldwide, have spoken out against the injustices of human trafficking and forced prostitution in Iran.

According to the Shargh Daily, on May 26th, the Young Iranian Society News Agency held a roundtable discussion on the topic, announcing that 286 women were put on auction in Fojeyreh, United Arab Emirates. An Iranian pilot working for the United Arab Emirates airline, Mostafa Ben Yahiya, attended the meeting. He declared “an average of between 10 to 15 girls are sent to the United Arab Emirates everyday on nine ordinary flights and 20 irregular flights from Iran to Dubai…Moreover, corpses of three to five Iranian girls are taken from these countries to Iran every month…” The problem is only growing. Professor Donna M. Hughes, the Carlson Endowed Chair of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Rhode Island reports that “according to an official source in Tehran, there has been a 635 percent increase in the number of teenage girls in prostitution,” and that in Tehran alone “there are an estimated 84,000 women and girls in prostitution, many of them are on the streets, others are in the 250 brothels that reportedly operate in the city.” Because exact numbers are impossible to obtain, these figures may not accurately represent the magnitude of the problem, as they do not include the number of Iranian women sold into sexual slavery abroad.

This abhorrent form of exploitation does not confine itself to adult women, but extends to children as well. The head of the Tehran province judiciary asserts that traffickers looking to sell women in the international market target girls between 13 and 17, although some of the girls are reported to be as young as 8 and 10. The younger girls are often forced to work as maids until slave traders deem them old enough to work out of clubs, motels, or brothels.Numerous women looking for a higher source of income are lured by promises of lucrative employment, only to be forced to work as prostitutes. Slave traders generally approach women at swimming pools, gyms, and even public schools, offering them higher-paying jobs away from their homes and families as secretaries. On occasion, those involved in this slave trade claim a short-contract partnership, declared a legal binding similar to that of marriage, but in essence a form of prostitution, as the contract lasts anywhere from 24 hours to a lifetime. Women are also kidnapped and then coerced into brothels or abroad. When thousands were rendered homeless or killed after the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, many orphaned girls were kidnapped off the streets and sold into sexual slavery. Additionally, human traffickers prey upon teen runaways, of which there are an estimated 25,000 in Tehran alone, as Professor Donna M. Hughes reports. A number of the young women forced into prostitution are even sold by their parents.

The causes behind the problem of human trafficking are complex and multi-faceted. The parents who sell their own daughters into prostitution are often drug addicts. As reported by Fars News Agency, the president of the Scientific Society of Social Harms in Iran stated that “over 50 percent of the Iranian people are involved either directly or indirectly with drugs.” With drug problems so pervasive in Iran, some parents sell their daughters to support drug habits they cannot afford.Runaways and women trying to escape Iran are fleeing from an array of social and personal problems as well as for spiritual reasons, and their desperation is apparent in recent statistics on suicides in Iran. The Director General of Social Affairs of Kohkiluyeh and Boyer Ahmad declared that in Iran, the number of suicides in 2003 had a 46 percent increase compared to 2002. Moreover, roughly 74 percent of the successful suicides were those of women, and the real number of suicides is much higher than they can confirm, as reported by Peik-e Iran website. Furthermore, ninety percent of these women were between 17 and 35 years old.

Various politicians, scholars, and sociologists assert that the problem is also an undeniable result of rampant poverty and a lack of educational opportunities for women. The gap between the rich and the poor is increasing in Iran. With an unemployment rate of 43 percent for women, and with at least 53 percent of the total population in poverty, many young women feel pressured into accepting offers of employment or marriage.The Iranian government’s response has thus far been inadequate. There currently exists no legal structure to prevent this problem specifically, and although technically illegal, there do exist too many loopholes such as the short-contract partnership. Many Iranians see the allegations as rumor and fabrication, as well as a mark of disrespect toward Iran’s government and national honor. The government stated that it would never permit such trafficking to reach such a disturbing level, yet numerous members of the United Nations Human Rights Commission have worked to pass resolutions against what they mark as an extensive human trafficking problem in Iran. Reports have surfaced that some women are even blamed and punished for participating in immoral activity—despite the fact that they had no choice in the matter. There are even reports that some government officials are involved in and profiting from the sex slave trade. The government has also not sufficiently responded to instances of police corruption and the use of some shelters, instituted to provide a safe haven for runaways and used as conduits for the sex slave trade, which are also contributing factors to the problem.

The roots of the problem lay at an international level as well as a local one. Some sociologists and scholars have pointed to globalization as the main source of the abject poverty in Iran. Sociologist Anthony Giggins argues that global corporations undermine local businesses through a modern form of economic imperialism. With gaps between not only rich and poor citizens increasing, but between rich and poor countries, Giggins asserts that the Third World is destined to slavery. The United Nations has also marked globalization as a factor in the increasing poverty of the third world. Members of the U.N. have created “a draft resolution on globalization and its impact on the full enjoyment of all human rights.”In opposition to the claim that globalization is the culprit, a number of women’s rights groups and pro-democratic organizations hold that it is instead the restrictions of fundamentalism that create poverty, and along with these restrictions come exploitation of women. The U.N. has also expressed concern in this area, showing worry over fundamentalist limitations that are seen as human rights violations. Women’s groups such as the National Committee for a Democratic Iran report that many teen runaways and women taking false employment outside Iran, are fleeing from what they feel are the confinements of fundamentalism, as well as personal or familial problems. These girls rarely find shelter from abusive homes, or the restrictions that spurred them to leave, and instead are condemned to a life of exploitation and more abuse.

If these reports and indications prove to be fact, the well-being, safety, and future of Iranian women is in jeopardy. On a personal level, the problem could be ameliorated with the development of truly safe shelters and counseling centers. There currently exist no counseling centers for women to turn to when dealing with familial, personal, or relationship conflicts. On a national level, the increase in human trafficking indicates that the government’s response to the problem is wholly insufficient, and on an international level, a more efficient cooperation between countries trafficking women from or to their borders must develop. Most importantly, at the heart of these statistics—whether economic, social, or political—stands a very human problem. The possibility of sexual slavery, a most demeaning and exploitative form of coercion, is not only tragic, but, unfortunately, also very real.

“Numerous women looking for a higher source of income are lured by promises of lucrative employment, only to be forced to work as prostitutes.”

Leave a Reply