[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

IRAQ (Tier 2 Watch List)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Iraq is both a source and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. Iraqi women and girls, some as young as 11 years old, are trafficked within the country and abroad to Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, UAE, Turkey, Iran, and possibly Yemen, for forced prostitution and sexual exploitation within households in these countries. Some victims are sexually exploited in Iraq before being sold to traffickers who take them abroad. In some cases, women are lured into sexual exploitation through false promises of work. The more prevalent means of becoming a victim is through sale or forced marriage. Family members have trafficked girls and women to escape desperate economic circumstances, to pay debts, or resolve disputes between families. Some women and girls are trafficked within Iraq for the purpose of sexual exploitation through the traditional institution of temporary marriages (muta’a). Under this arrangement, the family receives a dowry from the husband and the marriage is terminated after a specified period. When trafficked by persons other than family members, women can be placed at risk of honor killings if their families learn that they have been raped or forced into prostitution. Anecdotal reports tell of desperate Iraqi families abandoning their children at the Syrian border with the expectation that traffickers on the Syrian side will pick them up and arrange forged documents so the young women and girls can stay in Syria in exchange for working in a nightclub or brothel.

Iraqi boys, mostly from poor families of Turkmen and Kurdish origin, are trafficked within Iraq for the purpose of forced labor, such as street begging and sexual exploitation. Iraqi men and boys who migrate abroad for economic reasons may become victims of trafficking. Women from Ethiopia, Indonesia, Nepal, and the Philippines are trafficked into the area under the jurisdiction of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) for involuntary domestic servitude after being promised different jobs. Over the past year, there was a credible report of women trafficked by the director of a women’s shelter in KRG area; the shelter was subsequently closed. There were also reports that some foreign women recruited for work in beauty salons in the KRG area had debts imposed on them and were coerced into prostitution. During 2008, dozens of Indonesian women trafficked to Iraq were trapped without assistance from law enforcement authorities. IOM helped to rescue and repatriate several of these women.

Iraq is a destination for men trafficked from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Thailand for involuntary servitude as construction workers, security guards, cleaners, and handymen. There are reports that some workers were recruited by a labor broker to work for contractors or sub-contractors of U.S. Government agencies, but the services of this broker were discontinued subsequent to a U.S. government investigation. The governments of India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and the Philippines ban their nationals from working in Iraq. These bans are not effective, however, as some laborers circumvent the law or are deceived by labor brokers in their home countries into believing they were getting jobs in one of the Gulf states or Jordan. They then find themselves in Iraq; their passports are confiscated and wages withheld to repay the broker for recruitment, transport, and costs of living. Others are aware they are coming to Iraq, but once in-country find that the terms of employment are not what they expected and they face coercion and serious harm financial or otherwise if they attempt to leave.

Men brought to Iraq by labor recruiters, some of whom reportedly provided labor for U.S. government contractors, at times found upon arrival that the jobs they expected were contingent on contracts that had not yet been awarded. While in camps awaiting work, they were sometimes charged exorbitant prices for lodging and supplies, which increased their debts and prolonged the time required to pay them, typically ranging from six months to one year. Some of these conditions may constitution human trafficking.

Traffickers are predominantly male, but sometimes female family members traffic their own children or relatives. Traffickers include both large crime groups and small, family-based groups, as well as businesses such as employment agencies. Several factors contribute to human trafficking in, into, and out of Iraq. Since the ousting of the former regime in 2003, reconstruction activity and provision of goods and services contracted by the government and the Multi-National Forces have drawn foreign workers (some 30-50,000). Instability and violence have made as many as four million Iraqis refugees in neighboring countries or internally displaced, many of them in economically desperate circumstances. Finally, foreign workers are drawn to the KRG by relative stability, economic opportunity, and higher salaries compared to those at home.

The Government of Iraq does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In particular, despite the serious security challenges facing the government, it is committed to enacting comprehensive anti-human trafficking legislation, which it began to draft during the past year. Despite these overall significant efforts, the government did not show progress over the last year in punishing trafficking offenses using existing laws or identifying and protecting victims of trafficking. During the reporting period, the government’s attention was devoted to other priorities, specifically, political reconciliation, restoration of security throughout the country, and economic reconstruction. The Iraqi government did not take adequate action to monitor or combat trafficking in persons. Notwithstanding the inattention to trafficking in the past year, some Iraqi officials have begun to recognize the problem, and the Legal Advisor’s Office of the Council of Ministers Secretariat has begun to draft comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation.

Recommendations for Iraq: Enact and implement a law that criminalizes all forms of trafficking; investigate, prosecute, and punish trafficking offenders; provide protection services to victims, ensure that they are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, and encourage their assistance in prosecuting offenders; train officials in methods to identify victims; undertake a campaign to raise public awareness of trafficking; take measures to screen migrant workers to identify human trafficking; take steps to end the practice of forced marriages and curb the use of temporary marriages that force girls into sexual and domestic servitude; consider measures to reduce abuse of migrant workers who learn upon arrival in Iraq that the job they were promised does not exist; and regulate recruitment practices, including recruitment fees, of foreign labor brokers to prevent practices that facilitate forced labor.

The government did not prosecute trafficking cases in the past year. There were no mechanisms to collect data on offenses or enforcement. Although no single law defines trafficking in persons or establishes it as a criminal offense, various provisions of Iraqi law apply to trafficking. The 2005 Iraqi Constitution prohibits forced labor, slavery, slave trade, trafficking in women or children, and sex trade. Several provisions of the Penal Code, dating from 1969, criminalize unlawful seizure, kidnapping, and detention by force or deception. The prescribed penalty is up to 7 years in prison and up to 15 years if the victim is a minor and force is used. The penalty for sexual assault or forced prostitution of a child is 10 years’ imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent to deter, though not commensurate with the penalties prescribed for rape (15 years in prison). Because coercion is not a legal defense, however, women who have been trafficked into prostitution have been prosecuted and convicted. When women or girls are trafficked by family members into sexual exploitation, the crime often goes unreported because of the shame involved, or uninvestigated because of the courts’ reluctance to intervene in what are considered internal family matters. There is anecdotal evidence of occasional complicity in trafficking by officials. An investigation of alleged trafficking involving the director of a women’s shelter in the KRG area had not been completed at the time of this Report.

The Iraqi government did not provide protection to victims of trafficking during the reporting period. The government did not operate shelters for trafficking victims, nor offer legal, medical, or psychological services. An NGO operated a shelter in Baghdad for women and girls who were victims of violence, although it is not known whether any of the people assisted were trafficking victims. Six shelters for abused women and girls in the KRG areas received some support from the regional government. A few NGOs provided legal assistance, counseling, and rehabilitation assistance to trafficking victims. Iraq did not have formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as women arrested for prostitution or the foreign workers imported to Iraq by labor brokers, some of whom reportedly provided workers for U.S. Government contractors and sub-contractors. About half of the 1,000 men from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, and Sri Lanka men found in December 2008 living for months in squalid conditions in camps near Baghdad International Airport were repatriated with the assistance of the IOM; most of the rest found jobs in Iraq. The government was not involved in investigating the abuses or repatriating the men. Victims of trafficking reportedly were prosecuted for prostitution. There were documented cases of female victims being kept in “protective custody” in detention centers to deter violence against them by their families and traffickers. Abused children were typically placed in women's or juvenile prisons. Since trafficking is not established as a crime in Iraq, the government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of trafficking. Foreign victims had no legal protection against removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. There was no victims’ restitution program. The draft law would establish a framework for assisting victims of trafficking. It specifies the ways the government is obligated to assist victims, including by providing medical care and legal counseling. The law also stipulates that victims must be provided with shelter appropriate to their sex and age group, physical and mental rehabilitation, and educational and job training opportunities. As for foreign trafficking victims, the law requires that the authorities provide them with language and legal assistance and facilitate their repatriation.

The Government of Iraq did not take measures to prevent trafficking in persons this reporting period, although some government officials have acknowledged that human trafficking is a problem. In March 2009, a few Iraqi officials attended training offered by an NGO in drafting effective anti-trafficking legislation. Local governments have held the view that trafficking is not a problem within their jurisdictions. A KRG parliamentarian told the press in August that there was no trafficking of women in the KRG area. The KRG Minister for Social Welfare did, however, call a high-level internal KRG meeting to look at the problem. The government does not sponsor any anti-trafficking campaigns. Although the Ministry of Human Rights and the Ministry of State for Women’s Affairs have in the past expressed interest in running such a campaign, both lack funds and staffing. The Minister of State for Women’s Affairs in February 2009 resigned over this lack of basic support; the ministry is now being led by an acting minister. The government did not provide any specialized training for government officials to identify trafficking victims. Law enforcement officials did not screen people leaving or entering Iraq for evidence of trafficking. The borders of Iraq remained generally unsecured, with limited presence by understaffed law enforcement officials outside of designated border crossings. The large numbers of internally displaced persons and refugees moving within Iraq and across its borders compounded the difficulty of identifying trafficking victims. Iraq has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.