Ravaged by rights groups and upbraided by the U.S. for failing to take measures against human trafficking, the Iraqi government has been quietly working on a draft law to tackle the scourge. Baghdad was prodded into action late last year, after the release of the U.S. State Department's "Trafficking in Persons Report," according to Human Rights Minister Wijdan Mikhail Salim. "Let's say it was a tough report about the situation in Iraq, and in so many cases it was right," she says.
The report was damning. Baghdad, it concluded, "offers no protection services to victims of trafficking, reported no efforts to prevent trafficking in persons and does not acknowledge trafficking to be a problem in the country." As a TIME.com story detailed, trafficking in Iraq is a shadowy underworld where nefarious female pimps hold sway and impoverished mothers sell their teenage daughters on the sex market. (See pictures of a women's prison in Baghdad.)
The situation is slowly changing. The draft law, a copy of which was obtained by TIME, imposes tough penalties, including life imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 25 million dinars ($21,000) for traffickers if the victim "is under 15, or a female, or has special needs." The same punishment applies if the crime was committed by kidnapping or force, or if the criminal "is a direct or distant relative or the victim's caretaker or husband or wife," a tacit acknowledgment that victims are often trafficked by people they know.
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