Human trafficking, particularly for sexual purposes, is one of the oldest crimes against humanity. Despite all the efforts to fight and limit it, and despite all the international laws that criminalize it, human trafficking is becoming more widespread, day after day. This crime includes three parties—the seller, the marketer, and the client (who is considered complicit in this crime by some countries). France, Norway, the United Kingdom, and Iceland, for example, consider the client a criminal, imposing fines on those who pay for sexual services.
Lebanon, however, does not punish the client. This is unfortunate, and the client should be punished, because when the demand decreases, the supply will also decrease. Article 164 of Lebanese law states that anyone who works in human trafficking is to be sentenced to five years in prison, and large fines are levied in cases involving coercion.
Human trafficking for sexual exploitation is not new, and it has been going on for years in Lebanon. The victims are mostly European, Syrian, and Lebanese girls and women. There is a large contingent of Syrian victims because their lack of basic rights often pushes them onto this infernal path. While the spread of this business in Lebanon does not only have only one underlying reason, the absence of marketing and education campaigns made for refugees has given those who take advantage of Syrian women for sexual trafficking a big push.
A quick survey of the past four years in Lebanon reveals a chain of financial and labor-related violations of the rights of refugees, as well as kidnappings carried out with impunity. The kidnapping of female refugees is rarely talked about, unless there happen to be witnesses to the kidnapping. If those cases were not covered by the media, it would lead to outrage. Who doesn’t remember the story of “Lilan Hoory” who was taken by an armed kidnapper in al-Ain al Bakaa’iyya, and the girl “Fatima al-Hamd,” who was only 14 years-old when she was kidnapped from within the Zahle refugee camp by kidnappers with weapons. “Abir al-Jaoor” was kidnapped while with her mother and sister in Ba’albak.
What would have happened to those girls if they had not been rescued? There are many girls and women leaving Syria to go to Lebanon without knowing what is truly in store for them.
One of the factor making the “marriage trade” so popular is that many girls are getting married at a very young age, usually because their families lack the financial resources to support an extra family member. These young girls that get married frequently either come back home divorced after a few days, or are never seen again by their parents.
Also, girls at the camps suffer abuse at the hands of the landowners and overseers of their camps. When a girl and her parents do not agree to a short-term marriage contract, they are threatened with being kicked out of the camp.
The issue is much larger than simply making people aware of it, or arresting a few people and saying that it has been solved. While that might end one cycle, another one will soon begin, with different people in a different place. The outlawing of human trafficking and the effort to stop it in countries where it is common is not enough while there is an ongoing war in Syria. It is not coming to an end because too many prominent and powerful Lebanese figures are involved with the trafficking.
That is why, in my opinion, the first step to solving the trafficking problem is for the government to offer shelter and protection for girls and women who have been exposed to any sort of sexual abuse. That protection should also extend to those who feel like they are in a dangerous situation. Additionally, the government should provide legal protection, whether it be a legitimate option for the girl to return to her home country after an abuse incident or assistance in getting to a different country as a refugee. Also, the government should provide more infrastructure for teaching female refugees new trades and enabling them. For example, there should be programs for learning sewing, design, cooking and education, as well as ongoing psychological support, if needed.
There must be a law that criminalizes the clients in addition to the traffickers.