Syria's Stifling Economic Conditions Stimulate Sex Trafficking

Syria's Stifling Economic Conditions Stimulate Sex Trafficking
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Published on: Sunday 20 December 2020


- Procurers hunt girls from beauty salons, amusement parks and restaurants.

- Trafficking networks deceive Syrian women with employment contracts and marriage and engage them with prostitution.

- Forcing minors to have sex with 25 men a day.

- Al-Shaal: The minimum penalties are not enough to deter this crime.

- Zakzak: It's men's demand for sexual services that turns these services into a supply commodity on the market.


She was crying as she tried to summarize her life history in few minutes. "By God, Sir, it's all because of my husband," she said. Suzan is among the "poor" arrested for prostitution. In her story, she spoke about being raped as a teenager, and when she got married at the age of 21, she stayed with her husband less than 9 months because he started to engage into prostitution. When she tried to return to her family home, her father refused to house her, so she went homeless in the streets. She remarried and gave birth to a daughter, but the new husband also soon divorced her, only to find herself on the street again. From there she reached one of the "Procurers" who exploits the circumstances of the poor girls and approaches them to offer them a place to shelter, and then they are exploited to work in the sex trafficking or prostitution, to end up being in prison.


Sex trafficking was active during the war as never before, and criminal police records documented cases of "prostitution" of women from conservative environments who will not leave their houses until they die. However, because their husbands left them alone with children, that’s why they had no source to feed their children but through selling their bodies. This was either due to the pressure of need, or for the justifying that this work is quick with high income.


Organized Networks


 Investors have been active in this type of trade. Networks have been set up; criminal security and combat trafficking in persons had arrested one that operates between Syria and Lebanon and far to the Gulf. questing Syrian women and engaging them in prostitution. In coordination with the Lebanese Criminal Security, the Criminal Security Department was able to arrest a gang of 65 persons involved in sex trafficking. After the building was seized, 75 Syrian girls were found engaged in prostitution.


One of the girls who was working as an artist in a “casino” in a nightclub said that she met a woman in a beauty salon in Jaramana. This woman told her about what she works and how much she gets paid, then offered her to get a larger amount, with fewer risks, with accommodation and food insurance, and that she will work safely without any legal accountability, because she is classified in Syria as a minor under 18 years old. The neighboring country, Lebanon, values art, and women artists more than here, and because Shaimaa’s work was driven by need and distress, that beautiful girl didn't need much time to be convinced of the idea. Shaimaa (nickname) continues that as soon as she arrived in Lebanon, a person picked her up and took her to a luxurious building where she found her Syrian colleagues. Soon it became clear that the work required of her is not what she was doing in Syria as a performing artist, but rather she is required to spend hot nights with customers. The problem is that the matter does not end with having sex with one client, as she said, but she was asked in one day to sleep with up to 25 men, and that she was often beaten and insulted as the rest of her colleagues, and her share of all this extortion did not exceed 60 dollars per day. Shaimaa said that every 12 girls were shown together in front of the customer to choose who he wants, and in this case, none of them had any choice but to escape if they were able, as one of them did, or to continue according to their contract for a month or two.



Popular Prostitution


There are many types of sex trafficking in Syria, according to people familiar with the fight against human trafficking. There is prevalent prostitution that targets the lowest-income segments, and its advantages are lower. Among the seized cases, a house in an upscale area employs girls at home in prostitution. When the owner of the house, who is a woman, was asked about the girls after the raid, she said that they were employed, but after scrutiny and investigation it had been revealed that she had opened her home for sex trading, where she exploited the girls' need for work and housing, and then occupied them in her home with prostitution. While an informed source in the criminal police confirmed that there is a type of prostitution that no one talks about, this type is found in Damascus countryside, such as Yaafour, where the price per night reaches $500. allocations for this type of prostitution must enjoy special benefits, primarily beauty and young age. Pretty little girls are the highest price.

The source adds that they have seized many cases working in the sex trafficking, as a Syrian billionaire with more than 10 houses in Damascus occupied in prostitution was arrested.


Almost one option


An officer from counter trafficking said that after learning about the circumstances of some of the girls arrested on prostitution charges, he wishes he could help them, especially since many of them are young, left behind by husbands with young children, and they have nothing. Most conservative environments would make their daughters marry at young ages before they were empowered with a certificate or a job. The body was the only way to invest, and to secure the sustenance of the day for them and their children, especially since there were women who traded their bodies with young men for small profits such as dress or meals.


One of the stories that happened was that one young woman kept ignoring the hints of who gave them bread on the role in a hot province, but returned every day with nostalgia, and when she was desperate for a bread tie, she had to give up.


Followers and acquaintances told stories of women "accompanying" men in exchange for their role in getting a closer appointment to the aid basket. 


From the streets and nightclubs 


The Department for Combating Human Trafficking has a number of competencies, including prostitution. The figures indicate that the cases registered in the Directorate have declined from 200 last year to 80 this year. This is not an indication of the decline in the situation, but rather the extent of follow-up and strictness.


An insider in the field of combating human trafficking referred to the way in which trafficking workers operate within networks: the person who sends the girl receives an amount of $2,000 alone for each girl he can recruit within the network, or the person who sends her receives a sum, and the girl gets also on an amount of it, and it remains for a specified period and then returns it. As these girls are selected from the streets and amusement parks, as the movement of girls who work in the sex trafficking is active late at night, and they spread in specific areas that customers have become familiar with and know them. There are many cases like Jaramana and some nightclubs in Damascus, where the process of “matching” takes place between the girl and the customer in the street, and the amount and place are agreed upon before she gets into the car.


Regarding the ages of girls arrested, the source claimed that they are between the ages of 12 and 30, because the older and experienced in this area become "procurer", which means that she search for those in need to work in prostitution; they are old and no longer desirable for customers who prefer young women.


Trade for Spouses


If poverty and distress are the cause of this phenomenon during the war years, the situation is different for many of them. One medical examiner, who is usually asked to identify girls arrested in suspicious apartments, asserts that there are no more cases being followed during the war than others, and that the issue of increasing the number is linked to the extent to which this phenomenon is being pursued more severely. Through the cases he was following up and asking him to reveal, most of them were showing indifference and indifference, and when asked in an attempt to empathize with her situation, she says: Write what you want!


Because only the husband has the right to charge his wife with prostitution, it turns out that many of the cases he followed up in which the husband refused the claim. It became clear that he was the one who occupied her, and she soon gets out of prison to return to work in prostitution.


Disguised Prostitution


The Chief of the Ethics Protection Branch of the Directorate of Criminal Security, Colonel Wasim Maarouf, confirmed in one of his statements that there was some kind of indirect trafficking, namely Syrian marriages with Arab youths. The marriage of Iraqis to Syrian women has recently become common, and many have been beaten and humiliated. 


A new kind of exploitation is that women are being blackmailed by their bosses in exchange for work, especially in art, or media appearances, and there are many stories circulating which confirm the sale of the body in exchange for a job, or the sale of the body in exchange for girls' access to money to complete their university studies.



It was not banned


In his legal talk about how to deal with the crime of sex trafficking, lawyer Aref Al-Shaal said: when the General Penal Code was enacted in 1949, the profession of sex trafficking, or what is known as the practice of prostitution was not prohibited in Syria, but it was regulated by the law of the prostitution system issued during the French Mandate on 24 June 1933 (without number - published in the Official Gazette of 1933, No. 12, pg. 246). Under article 1 of it, a prostitute is defined as every woman who sells herself to any person coming for a financial fee. A woman under 21 years of age is not allowed to engage in prostitution, provided that she is registered in police records and subject to periodic medical examination. This law regulates the role of prostitution, the conditions for opening and licensing it, and the duties of its owner, and imposes on it and on prostitutes’ fees to be paid to the financial departments for practicing this profession.  


Secret prostitution


At the time of its issuance, the Penal Code did not prohibit the practice of prostitution. Still, it penalized in Article 509 that the facilitation and practice of secret prostitution, that is, practiced without a license under the prostitution law in force at the time. This remained the case until 1961 when the Unity State (Syria and Egypt) joined the Convention on the “Prohibition of Human Trafficking and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others.” As a result, The Anti-Prostitution Act No. 10 was promulgated on 8 March 1961, which repealed the Prostitution Regime Act and punished prostitution, its facilitation, incitement, and the opening of ad hoc homes, as well as those who instigated the departure from State territory to that end. To date, the Act has been in force and its provisions have been brought to justice.


Minimum Sentence


Lawyer Al-Shaal added that the said Act considered crimes related to such acts as misdemeanors, and set a minimum and maximum sentence for imprisonment, and personally, in practice "I believe that the minimum established by the act for the crime is not sufficient to deter it. In practice in the courts, we note that the judge usually misdemeanors to sentence the minimum sentence, so any thought or call to amend these penalties in order to reduce this scourge must address the lifting of the minimum sentence, especially for the minimum penalty. For those who facilitate, incite, or assist in the practice of vice, or open a private home for it, for example, incitement to prostitution, facilitation or opening a home shall be punishable by one to three years' imprisonment, and those who rent a home for this purpose shall be imprisoned for three months to three years. It is noted that the minimum penalties that the judiciary tends to impose - except for repetitions - are not sufficient to deter this crime, which should be accompanied by the lifting of the minimum penalty for this crime, particularly in cases of facilitating prostitution, inciting its family, opening a home, or renting it for this purpose, is at least two years' imprisonment, in my opinion as it constitutes a serious risk in this event. While it is possible to take into account and understand the harsh conditions in which a woman has resorted to vice for a living and relative leniency in punishing her, it is not possible to tolerate those who benefit and trade in doing so."


Historical Phenomenon 


On how women's rights activist Susan Zakzek read the phenomenon of sex trafficking in this war, she said: It should be noted that this phenomenon is well known in all societies, and it spreads strongly during crises. It is originally the result of the lack of opportunities for employment in other sectors, where those who work in this sector are forced to work.


This phenomenon existed in Syria prior to the armed conflict, during which it was expanded by the suffocating living crisis, men going to battlefields or prisons, as well as a severe weakness in the empowerment of women, especially in educational and professional empowerment.


The low self-esteem of women who do this is perhaps the first social risk, apart from the low social respect for and rejection of these women; This phenomenon leads to family dislocation, sometimes ending up killing this woman on the pretext of "defending honor."


Moreover, they are victims of economic violence and abuse by those who run the business, who are the largest winners in the chain of participants in the business. This work may be carried out within the framework of networks that are allied with certain authority holders to ensure the protection of such networks. Women working in this area are often victims of human trafficking.

In addition, there are risks of sexually transmitted diseases, especially in the absence of periodic medical examinations since this is done in secret.


Zakzak has proposed direct, immediate, and strategic solutions, which are:

  1. Scrutinizing these crimes to distinguish between prostitution and human trafficking.
  2. Placing those involved in prostitution in prisons and rehabilitation homes.
  3. Providing health care insurance and periodic check-ups.
  4. Creating an environment conducive to finding alternative job opportunities.


Offence to request service


Strategic solutions begin with the prevention of having to do this work, which requires improving the situation of women in all areas, from education and vocational empowerment, to ensuring decent employment opportunities, which means ensuring access to employment rights; and amending all discriminatory laws to enhance women's confidence in their prestigious profile in society.


 For example, most personal status laws make the goal of the first marriage to be the management of lust and sexual practice, which is the right of the man and the duty of the woman. The criminalization of demand for sexual services, a new approach initiated by some developed countries such as Sweden, which proceeds from the fact that it is the demand for sexual services by men that turns such services into a supply commodity on the market, penalizes the male applicant and treats the female providers of the service as victims in need of rehabilitation.




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