Thursday, November 24, 2005

"Pleasure Marraiges" In Iraq

New York - A veteran Middle East observer, Robert Fisk, says Iraqi civilians are worried about how to save their wives from becoming prostitutes.

'Vast armies of the Mafioso are now operating in Iraq,' said Fisk. 'Women are being sold into prostitution into Syria and Yemen.'

Fisk, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent of London, met with members of the United Nations Correspondents Association last Friday at UN World Headquarters in New York.

'As we sit in New York or London with wall-to-wall coverage of the (Iraqi) constitutional referendum, in their homes Iraqis are not talking about the constitution. They are talking about how to protect their wives,' said Fisk.

In the last couple of months, more and more reports about prostitution in Iraq have started making the headlines. USA Today recently published an article on the rise of 'pleasure marriages' in Iraq.

'Pleasure marriages were outlawed under Saddam Hussein but have begun to flourish again. The contracts, lasting anywhere from one hour to 10 years, generally stipulate that the man will pay the woman in exchange for sexual intimacy,' said USA Today.

Under Saddam Hussein, the Fedayeen, Arab guerrillas, cracked down on prostitutes, pimps and anyone suspected of selling girls abroad. In 2000, Saddam reportedly beheaded 200 women convicted of prostitution. In the absence of the Fedayeen, prostitution seemed to have gained a loose reign.

'It`s a serious problem because there are young girls doing this -11, 12, 13 years old,' said Abdelhamid El Ouali, representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Syrian government and UNHCR put the number of Iraqi refugees in Syria at roughly 700,000.

Syrian police either lack data or won`t release any figures on prostitution, according to the Women`s International League for Peace and Freedom.

The US State Department`s 2005 'Trafficking in Persons Report' acknowledged the problem.

'There have been some reports that indicate Iraqi women may be subjected to sexual exploitation in prostitution in Syria at the hands of Iraqi criminal networks, but those reports have not been confirmed,' the report said.

The going rate for an Iraqi prostitute is 10,000 Iraqi dinars ($7), according to The Toronto Star.

Though some women are adopting prostitution to feed their families, others are being sold against their will.

The Independent interviewed two women who were abducted and then sold into prostitution.

'Because I was not married, I was sold for $6,000, and Sajeeda for $3,000. My hymen had a price - this is when we realized that we were going to have to do bad things with men. We were terrified,' one of the women told The Independent.

A growing concern of many humanitarian organizations is the young ages of Iraqi prostitutes. In an article for Salon magazine, an outreach organization for refugee children, Good Shepherd Nunnery, in Damascus said they had lost many of their students.

'In the past year, many of the children attending the nunnery`s learning center suddenly disappeared' said a sister at the school.

To prevent girls from turning to prostitution, the center offers them computer training courses and helps find them jobs in sewing and gold-manufacturing factories. But pay is usually about $50 a month -- $100 in the best case -- compared with the $40 to $60 sex workers can make per night. 'And the job opportunities are very rare,' said the sister. 'I had one girl who waited for three years for the factory job.'

In newspaper articles, social workers and humanitarian agencies blame the international community for not taking the issue of prostitution seriously.

One UN official told the Women`s International League for Peace and Freedom the international community had kept silent about the issue. The official said the 'conspiracy of silence' surrounding prostitution underscores the international community`s larger failure to recognize the dire conditions of Iraqi refugees and provide them with a safe haven.

While the coalition forces still have to develop a strategy for arresting prostitution Islamic vigilantes have taken things in their own hands, according to a recent Newsweek article.

'Islamic vigilantes are inflicting punishments that can be far more severe than a short stay behind bars. Liquor stores and porno shops around the country have been bombed, torched or even attacked with rocket-propelled grenades. Two customers at a porno theater in Mosul died in September when unidentified assailants dropped a hand grenade through a ceiling vent,' said Newsweek.

The fear of prostitution is keeping many women home, said Hanny Megally, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch. She said: 'Women and girls today in Baghdad are scared, and many are not going to schools or jobs or looking for work. If Iraqi women are to participate in post-war society, their physical security needs to be an urgent priority.'

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