Human Trafficking Within MENA

Is sex trafficking, sex slavery an issue in your country and region? The article (pdf) Born Free (see Bb-Readings-Women’s Rights from last week) talks about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which come into effect in 2016. Find out if human trafficking is addressed by one of the goals? What needs to be done to combat human trafficking?

As Syria is ravaged by the war, human traffickers have taken the opportunity to exploit the plight of the population. It is important to note however, that the phenomenon of human trafficking in Syria 0r the rest of the Middle East/North Africa is not a new one. For the past decade there have been many reports and investigations done into the increasing rates of forced prostitution, child marriage, rape, migrant labor trafficking, forced child begging, organ trafficking, etc.

Sex slavery is the portion of human trafficking that the media focuses on, and it is a huge issue in MENA, but labor trafficking has had rising rates as well. In Syria particularly, there were high rates of sex slavery prior to 2011. The nation is considered a transit and destination country for traffickers; this means that the nation was either a passing point on the way to transporting victims or a place where victims ended up (in terms of international/regional trafficking). There were many reasons for this, but the foundation lies in the fact that the Syrian government had no consistent prosecution measures, making the business of sex trafficking very low risk and reaped obscene amounts of revenue. One of the main victims of the trade were Iraqi refugees entering the nation who were forced into sex slavery by Iraqi gangs. Other victims include women and children trafficked from Somalia and Eastern Europe via kidnapping or coercion, often exploiting the poor populations that may be traded by their families in some cases. There have been high numbers of Russian and Ukrainian women who are recruited into Syria as cabaret dancers and have their passports and documentation confiscated and are forced to work as prostitutes.

HT Syria


After 2011, when the civil war had begun, other parties became involved in the trade. Perhaps the biggest name is ISIS who makes a $2 Million a day profit from organ trafficking, sex slavery, labor slavery, and making armies of child soldiers. As the nation’s government and economy crumbles and those who can afford it try to leave, there is no enforcement of laws or human rights and the extreme poverty of the population puts them in a prime situation to be trafficked.

The most obvious way the Sustainable Development Goals address human trafficking is through “Goal 5: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls”. Under this goal, there is a mission to end all violence against women and girls, including human trafficking- and particularly sex trafficking which they are more susceptible to.

To achieve this goal, there needs to be policy and action in place that makes the risk much higher and profits much lower. Right now, there are over 20 million people in slavery and human trafficking is the second most ‘successful’ enterprise in the world. This criminal activity thrives off the fact that governments won’t touch them, the liabilities are miniscule- small fines and short imprisonment; along with the fact that there is criminalization and disempowerment of the victims. First off, the punishment for trafficking needs to be dire, fees must be enormous and prison sentences must be MUCH longer. In Syria, there is a $2 fine for labor trafficking, and sex trafficking is overlooked entirely; in the US, migrant labor trafficking is supported by a loophole in the visa requirements. So this issue is not just in a war torn nation but it is global and affecting nations on every ladder of development. Secondly, there needs to be empowerment of the victims, in the form of safety, psychological and mental aftercare, education, work, etc. 80% of trafficking victims go back into the sex industry due to lack of prospects, this can be prevented by providing safe shelter, an education, and a skill set. Furthermore, empowered survivors means there would be more successful chances of prosecution. Thirdly, there needs to be regulation and audits of the sex industry and tracking of migrant labor- as visa loopholes are what allows employers to use slave labor. Migrant slave labor is a common form of human trafficking and checking in on migrants who may have had their documentation confiscated could help prevent slave labor.

ISIS: One of Many Contributors to Trafficking in Syria and Iraq


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