US Report: Human Trafficking in Iran

July 27, 2015

Iran's government "does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so,” according to the State Department’s 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report.  The report ranks Iran as a “Tier 3” country, its lowest ranking, meaning that the government is not taking adequate measures to combat trafficking problems. The following is an excerpt from the report.

Iran is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Accurate information on human trafficking, however, is difficult to obtain. Organized groups reportedly subject Iranian women, boys, and girls to sex trafficking in Iran, as well as in the United Arab Emirates and Europe. In 2013, traffickers forced Iranian women and girls into prostitution in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. From 2009-2015, there was a reported increase in the transport of girls from and through Iran en route to the Gulf where organized groups sexually exploited or forced them into marriages. In Tehran, Tabriz, and Astara, the number of teenage girls in prostitution continues to increase. Organized criminal groups force Iranian and immigrant children to work as beggars and in street vendor rings in cities, including Tehran. Physical and sexual abuse and drug addiction are the primary means of coercion. Some children are also forced to work in domestic workshops. Traffickers subject Afghan migrants, including boys, to forced labor in construction and agricultural sectors in Iran. Afghan boys are at high risk of experiencing sexual abuse by their employers and harassment or blackmailing by the Iranian security service and other government officials. Trafficking networks smuggle Afghan nationals living in Iran to Europe and subsequently force them to work in restaurants to pay off debts incurred by smuggling fees. Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to Iran for low-skilled employment, such as domestic work and construction. Organized groups subject some to forced labor, under which they experience debt bondage, restriction of movement, nonpayment of wages, and physical or sexual abuse. In previous years, there were reports government officials were involved in the sex trafficking of women and girls. Reports also indicated some officials operating shelters for runaway girls forced them into prostitution rings.
 
The Government of Iran does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. As in previous reporting periods, the government did not share information on its anti-trafficking efforts. Publicly available information from NGOs, the media, international organizations, and other governments indicates the Iranian government is not taking sufficient steps to address its extensive trafficking challenges, particularly with regard to the protection of trafficking victims. The government, however, reportedly took some efforts to cooperate with governments in the region to combat trafficking, among other crimes.
 
Recommendations for Iran
 
Investigate, prosecute, and convict offenders of sex trafficking and forced labor; increase transparency of anti-trafficking policies and activities and develop partnerships with international organizations to combat trafficking; ensure sex and labor trafficking victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; institute victim identification procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims, particularly among vulnerable populations such as persons in prostitution, children in begging rings, and undocumented migrants; offer specialized protection services to trafficking victims, including shelter and medical, psychological, and legal assistance; and become a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
 
Prosecution
 
The government made few discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Iranian law does not prohibit all forms of trafficking. A 2004 law prohibits trafficking in persons by means of threat or use of force, coercion, abuse of power, or abuse of a victim’s position of vulnerability for purposes of prostitution, slavery, or forced marriage. The prescribed penalty under this law is up to 10 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults and capital punishment for offenses against children. Both penalties are sufficiently stringent. The penalty for the trafficking of adults, however, is not commensurate with penalties prescribed under Iranian law for rape. In September 2014, a senior government official publicly claimed the anti-trafficking law was under review for amendment, including specific provisions to improve the effectiveness of the law. At the end of the reporting period, however, the amended law was still pending review by the judiciary and had not been enacted by the legislature. The constitution and labor code prohibit forced labor and debt bondage, but the prescribed penalty of a fine and up to one year’s imprisonment is not sufficiently stringent to deter these serious crimes. It was reportedly extremely difficult for female trafficking victims to obtain justice, as Iranian courts accord legal testimony by women only half the weight accorded to the testimony by men. Moreover, female victims of sexual abuse, including sex trafficking victims, are liable to be prosecuted for adultery, which is defined as sexual relations outside of marriage and is punishable by death. The government did not report official statistics on investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of trafficking offenders. The government also did not report investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, despite reports that such complicity was widespread. The government did not appear to report providing anti-trafficking training to officials during the reporting period. Throughout the reporting period, the government made some efforts to cooperate with various regional governments and one international organization on efforts to combat human trafficking, among other crimes.
 
Protection
 
The government made no discernible efforts to protect trafficking victims. The government did not report identifying or providing protection services to any trafficking victims, including repatriated Iranian victims. The government reportedly continued to punish sex trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as adultery and prostitution. The government held foreign trafficking victims in detention centers and jails until the court ordered their deportation. The government did not appear to operate social or legal protection services for trafficking victims, nor did it provide support to some NGOs providing limited services to victims. The government did not appear to encourage trafficking victims to assist in the investigation or prosecution of traffickers. It did not appear to provide foreign victims of trafficking a legal alternative to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.
 
Prevention
 
The government appeared to make inadequate efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not improve its transparency on its anti-trafficking policies or activities, nor did it make discernable efforts to forge partnerships with NGOs to combat human trafficking. The government made no discernable efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, forced labor, or for child sex tourism by Iranian citizens traveling abroad. The government did not implement anti-trafficking awareness campaigns. However, it issued several public pledges to cooperate with other countries on anti-trafficking efforts, while a senior government official raised trafficking issues with Pope Francis in Rome in February 2015. The parliament reportedly continued to review for ratification the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its three associated protocols in the wake of the cabinet’s December 2013 endorsement of the convention. There was no indication the government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Iran is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
 
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