Bought, Sold and Abused: The Plight of Female African Migrants in Yemen
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“The majority of child sex tourists in Yemen originate from Saudi Arabia, with a smaller number possibly coming from other Gulf nations. Yemeni girls who marry Saudi tourists often do not realise the temporary and exploitative nature of these agreements, and some are subjected to sex trafficking or abandoned on the streets of Saudi Arabia.”
A victim of another kind of sex trafficking, Leila, was 15 years old when she finally found refuge at a secret women’s shelter, tucked away in a quiet Sanaa neighbourhood.
Beaten by her family, Leila had run away from home two years before and lived off the streets. An older woman soon picked her up, bringing her to a neighbourhood brothel.
The girls were photographed having sex as blackmail to make them stay, given drugs and forced to service clients at night. The woman pocketed the clients’ cash.
Leila and the female pimp were arrested just before Leila was to be trafficked to Saudi Arabia. Leila served two years in prison for her ‘crime’. Her family disowned her, accusing her of destroying her honour, and her brother issued death threats.
Through a prison visit by staff from the Yemeni Women’s Union, Leila found out about the small women’s shelter – a rarity in Yemen – and was one of their first cases. With psychological help and class work consuming her days, Leila stayed at the shelter until the staff resolved the family dispute.
Yemen’s penal code proscribes ten years’ imprisonment for those engaged in buying or selling human beings. Although acknowledging the country’s ongoing political crisis, the U.S. State Department report stresses the utter lack of government efforts to counter trafficking this year.
“The Government of Yemen was unable to provide law enforcement data to contribute to this report, and it did not institute formal procedures to identify and protect victims of trafficking or take steps to address trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation.”
Nicoletta Giordano, the head of IOM’s activities in Yemen, warns against the inactivity. “There is a flourishing smuggling and trafficking business. It is an international business… Many Western countries are focused on piracy issues and attention to smuggling and trafficking has fallen by the wayside,” she says.
“If we were to look at border management in a more holistic way, so that those that require assistance and protection are referred, and those that might pose a threat are dealt with, this would be in the interest of all countries concerned.”
*Sex trafficking victims’ names have been changed to protect their identity.