The job in the textiles factory outside the Syrian capital would pay $300 (£160) a month, travel for the long journey was already arranged, a place for the girls to stay was ready and waiting and - best of all - Um Ahmad would pay Mona's father one month's salary in advance.President Bush is constantly reminding us that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have made it possible for 25 million women and girls to “go to school, vote in elections, and play an active role in their societies.” Which sounds awesome—but it’s total bullshit. Not only are women and girls still being prevented throughout Afghanistan and Iraq from the full participation in society to which Bush claims they now have access, but the women and girls who have—along with their fathers, husbands, and brothers—fled Iraq for fear of their lives are not receiving nearly enough assistance as refugees, and when the men can’t work for lack of proper permits (or lack of available jobs), the women are left to sell their bodies, ever the tradable commodity.
For the 26-year-old eldest daughter of eight children whose parents faced a daily despair of car bombs and poverty in their Baghdad slum, the offer sounded too good to be true.
Within a week of arriving in Damascus, Mona - whose name has been changed to protect her identity - had been plied with alcohol by Um Ahmad, required to dance for "friends of the factory owner" and had lost her virginity.
…Mona had become another victim of the growing sex trade among an Iraqi refugee community in Syria that local NGOs now estimate at 800,000 people, and to whose plight aid agencies say the international community continues to turn a blind eye.
…The [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] report found that prostitution among young Iraqi women in Syria, some just 12 years old, "may become a more widespread problem since the economic situation of Iraqi families is increasingly deteriorating".
"Organised networks dealing with the sex trade were reported," it said, finding evidence that "girls and women were trafficked by organised networks or family members".
[F]or another 17-year-old from the Shia holy city of Najaf in southern Iraq, an evening's work in an adult bar outside Damascus still brings her shame. But it is the only income her family has.In America…where she sees the freedom and opportunity that America said it was bringing to her.
"No one in my family can shout at me, even though they know what I do, because I am the only one working," said the girl, who has changed her name to Ayman since arriving in Syria in June 2003 and who earns $60 a night dancing and sleeping with wealthy Syrians and Arabs from the Gulf.
"I drink a lot of wine before I have sex with the men. Sometimes I hate myself for doing this job, especially when men ask me to do unusual things to make them happy," said Ayman. "I want to be married to a good husband and to have a family of my own, but the war forced me to come to Syria. I keep thinking I should just run away to start a new life in Europe, or maybe even America."
(Thanks to Bill H. for the heads-up.)