Iraqi women’s rights activists are outraged. “She refused to accept that her body had been sold. So this is how they reward her?” said Dalal Rubaie with the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, “To put her in jail for two years? Where’s the justice?”
Trafficking is a growing problem in Iraq. Some vulnerable women, desperate to support their families, are tricked into it by accepting fake marriage proposals. Many young girls, their parents facing dire economic circumstances, are just sold outright.
“In some ways, their fate is worse than death,” explained Samer Muscati from Human Rights Watch. “Once they’ve been trafficked, there’s a stigma even though they’re the victims in this horrific situation. They’ve been exploited and they’ve been trafficked to another country with no real recourse.”
According to Muscati, even if the girls do manage to escape the cruelty of their circumstances, it will be very difficult for them to escape the judgment of their families.
“When they do come back to Iraq, if the family does accept them it’s very difficult because they’ve brought great shame to the family, they’re subjected to honor crimes. And we’ve come across cases where young women have preferred to stay in prison or custody than to be released and to face tribal justice,” Muscati said.
Rubaie puts it even more bluntly when discussing what little future awaits trafficked girls who manage to return home.
“I’m sure the girl’s family won’t take care of her,” said Rubaie. “I’m sure that neighbors and relatives and society will judge her, they’ll know that the girl had been a prisoner and the family will be ashamed of her.
“I’m sure they won’t let her travel. I’m sure she won’t be able to complete her education, if she had been studying. Or they will force her to marry a cousin so they can exert control over her. Any cousin. They’ll end her life.”