(photo credit: AP)
The global economic crisis has fueled the human trafficking industry, according to a new US State Department report, which cites Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Syria as some of the world's worst offenders.
The Trafficking in Persons Report claims that the financial crisis has forced businesses to go underground to evade taxes and labor regulations, which can often lead to trafficking.
The four Middle Eastern countries have been "blacklisted" by the United States, and risk non-humanitarian, non-trade-related sanctions if their governments do not comply with minimum standards for improving human rights.
"Because of the economic downturn, the impact of the crisis in poor countries is exacerbating the issue of human trafficking in areas of poverty," Jean-Phillipe Chauzy, spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told The Media Line.
"Options for legal migration or work are few, so obviously there is a possibility that more people will resort to illegal migration," Chauzy explained. "Some of them will unfortunately be exploited and will fall victims to trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labor."
"The effects of the economic crisis should not be underestimated: it is increasing poverty in countries of origin and it is the major push factor for people to migrate illegally," he said.
In the report, countries are placed into three tiers based on the governmental level of compliance with international standards and the efforts it puts forth for prosecution and prevention of human trafficking. Tier 1 is classified as the most cooperative, and includes countries like Switzerland and the United Kingdom
Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Syria were all placed in Tier 3.
Iran is described as a major hub for human trafficking: it serves as a source, area of transit and a destination for men, women and children trafficked for purposes of forced labor and sexual servitude.
Women in particular are at risk in Iran due to the "fixed marriage" laws and the institutional discrimination against women in the legal system. Iranian law permits marriage for a fixed term, after which time it is dissolved. Many sex traffickers use this law as a loophole to sell women to men in Pakistan and other Gulf states for fixed-term marriages.
Even if women have proof of being the victims of sexual servitude, it is often difficult to take any legal action against offenders. In Iranian courts, the testimony of two women is equal to that of one man, and the victims of sexual abuse then risk execution for adultery.
One indicator of Iran's failure to comply with minimal standards for human rights is their lack of cooperation with international organizations, such as the International Organization for Migration. The IOM cannot provide assistance without an invitation from the government, and "We haven't had any request from Iranian authorities," Chauzy said.