Iranian schoolgirls flash the victory sign in an annual gathering in Tehran. (AP)

By Behnam Gholipour

February 22, 2021

“The Situation of Human Trafficking Across Iranian Borders” is the title of a new report in Police Science Quarterly, published by Eastern Tehran Police. According to the report, Iran is one of the major human trafficking routes, especially for trafficking young women and underage girls to Arab and European countries, and human traffickers in Iran carry out their trade by air, land and sea, although their main routes are roads that start from Iran’s eastern borders.

“Traffickers bring in Afghan and Pakistani citizens through the borders of Khorasan and Sistan and take them out of the country through the western borders and the borders of West Azerbaijan after traversing a long route,” the report says. The Persian Gulf maritime route is often used for trafficking women and girls to coastal Arab states, it notes.

According to Greater Tehran National Security Police and studies conducted by the Center for Women and Family Affairs and the Organization to Defend Victims of Violence in 2013, the trafficking of women and girls from Iranian border provinces to Persian Gulf coastal states, Pakistan and even European countries has been rising. “Arab countries are the major importers of women and girls, who are mostly trafficked from Iran,” the police report says.

After drug smuggling, human trafficking of women and girls is one of the most profitable cross-border criminal activities and the police report confirms that trafficking of girls and women from Iranian border provinces has been on the rise and the age of some trafficked girls has fallen below 14.

“Some of the activities of human traffickers take place in southern [Iranian] cities such as Bandar Abbas because they are close to Persian Gulf coastal states,” the report says. “Most of the victims of human traffickers are women and girls who are taken to Arab countries, especially Dubai and United Arab Emirates, for prostitution, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.”

Human trafficking in Iran is not confined to its land borders. The police report says the trafficking takes place by air as well with the cooperation of certain corrupt elements within travel agencies in metropolitan areas.

Harassment and Extortion by Security Forces and Officials

Another section of the report is about trafficking, especially of Afghan children, for forced labor in Iran. “Street children in Iran are highly vulnerable to human traffickers and organized groups kidnap or buy Iranian and immigrant children, especially Afghan refugee children, and force them to panhandle or to work as street vendors,” the report says. “Afghan boys in Iran are vulnerable to sexual exploitation by their masters and to harassment and extortion by security forces and other government officials.” Traffickers also force Afghan refugees, including children, to work without pay in construction and agriculture.

The major factor that pushes the victims into the traps laid by human traffickers is poverty. According to this report and other studies, most of the trafficked girls come from families of divorced parents.

In 2019, in its annual “Trafficking in Person Report”, the US State Department lists Iran as one the worst countries in terms of human trafficking. “The Government of Iran does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so,” it says.

“Government officials continued to perpetrate or condone trafficking crimes with impunity both in Iran and overseas and failed to report law enforcement efforts to address the crime. The government continued to force or coerce children and adults to fight for Iranian-led militias operating in Syria, and it provided financial support to militias fighting in armed conflicts in the region that recruited and used child soldiers. In addition, the government failed to identify and protect trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and continued to treat trafficking victims as criminals, including child sex trafficking victims. Victims continued to face severe punishment, including death, for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as commercial sex acts and immigration violations,” the report continues.

Referring to international routes the State Department says: “Some reports also suggest collusion between pimps in Dubai and Iranian police, the IRGC [the Revolutionary Guards] and the Basij. Reports suggest that Iranian women are also vulnerable to sex trafficking in Turkey, particularly in Turkish cities close to the Iranian border.”

Iran Wire

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Track PersiaTrack Persia is a Platform run by dedicated analysts who spend much of their time researching the Middle East, in due process we fall upon many indications of growing expansionary ambitions on the part of Iran in the MENA region and the wider Islamic world. These ambitions commonly increase tensions and undermine stability.