This one goes out to all the “Wallah Bros,” and those who constantly undermine the abuse faced by women.
Before I begin to write, I would like to bring attention and recognition to the fact that the issues I am discussing in this article occur throughout the world. Several countries exploit and perform illegal sexual arrangements. Sex trafficking is a big issue around the world. This problem is simply named differently to place a front.
Recently, a BBC investigation was conducted to expose Shia clerics in Baghdad, Iraq, whom are involved with helping men manipulate young women into so-called “pleasure marriages.” This religious front is causing women to become victims of abuse and sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, not only are these women being used, but men are profiting from it. “Pleasure marriages” are being used to justify women being pimped out, and I am actually disgusted right now.
These “mutaa” (pleasure) marriages, is unauthorized and illegal to perform under the Iraqi law. And yet, clerics continue to unlawfully officiate these illegitimate marriages and in exchange, are receiving a cut.
The writer of the original article describes her surroundings as she walks through the market stalls. She notices “marriage offices,” close to the mosques nearby that are licensed to execute Sharia marriages. These “mutaa” (pleasure) marriages, is unauthorized and illegal to perform under the Iraqi law. And yet, clerics continue to unlawfully officiate these illegitimate marriages and in exchange, are receiving a cut. It sounds bad already, but it sounds even worse when you realize that these men are basically paying for a “temporary wife.”
Imagine being a women, seeking help from a man whom you believe to be lawful and God-fearing, yet instead they are the ones who are using and abusing Sharia marriage laws to exploit women for their own profit. These men are manipulating vulnerable girls and young women, deceiving them into prostitution and pimping them out.
Thankfully, the investigation was not only a small write up of the problem. They also secured evidence on camera of what goes down behind the scenes. The article mentions, ”We recruited a male undercover reporter who, over the course of our year-long investigation, met and secretly filmed several of the clerics running the Sharia marriage offices in the vicinity of the shrines.”
On the other hand, the original writer of this article met and interviewed the female victims as well as some of the male clients who frequently use pleasure marriages.
The undercover reporter had visited several marriage offices in the hopes of estimating how many perform pleasure marriages. The offices that were approached are near the shrine of Kadamiya in Baghdad. After the visits, it was concluded that 8 out of 10 clerics that were approached agreed to perform pleasure marriages.
“You can marry a girl for half an hour and as soon as it’s over, you can marry another,” one of the clerics, Sayyed Raad, told the reporter on camera, “even after half an hour, you can marry another,” said one cleric.
Evidence was caught on camera of clerics assisting their male clients to deceive the female victims. The article mentions that visiting businessmen were advised by the cleric to use deception when arranging a pleasure marriage: “Take my advice, don’t tell her where my offices are in Kadamiya, so afterwards she can’t come looking for her rights. Trust me, it’s better that way,” the cleric advised.
Teenage girls are specially vulnerable to men whom are assisted by clerics, often paying the highest prices for their misfortune. Losing one’s virginity outside of a marriage is extensively viewed as a scandal. This turns into a concern towards the family, simply because it is viewed a shameful and dishonoring the family. Girls who have gone through these events are often disowned and shunned by their families. Unfortunately, there are other cases where girls are murdered.
What really blew my mind was reading that the cleric in question officiated a pleasure marriage between the reporter and a “young virgin,” in which he advised not to take her virginity, but to simply perform “anal sex” because it was permissible. The reporter questions the cleric, asking what he should do if he does end up taking the girl’s virginity. The clerics response was, “If the family does not know where you live, then you can just leave.”
A Front for Child Prostitution
Without viewing the secret footage caught of these clerics, I feel saddened and upset for these women. Especially since these women are living day to day dealing with the consequences of the cleric and the men whom request a pleasure marriage. Several victims were interviewed, allowing their stories and feelings to be heard.
One victim, Mona, states she was just 14-years-old when she was forced to enter a pleasure marriage. She expressed that the man would follow her home from school and that he complimented her.
“He told me he was rich, that he loved my personality, and that I was beautiful”. And just like that, a few weeks later she was brought to a cleric, and pressured to enter into a pleasure marriage.
Imagine being a women, seeking help from a man whom you believe to be lawful and God-fearing, yet instead they are the ones who are using and abusing Sharia marriage laws to exploit women for their own profit.
What blows my mind about this victim was that she was a virgin, and the cleric didn’t even ask for her parents’ consent. The cleric instead expressed to a 14-year-old that parental consent wasn’t needed as both she and the man were adults. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Three years on, and she is coerced by her family into get married, terrified that her future husband will find out she’s no longer a virgin because she was once forced into a pleasure marriage. Her fear also stems from her cousin who was killed by her uncle for simply having a boyfriend. Imagine what her punishment would be, if not the same. With all the pressure and fear, this victim contemplates suicide as she feels there is no way out.
Who Protects the Vulnerable?
The investigation was taken to Karbala, Shia Islam’s holiest site. The main focus of this investigation was to bring forth the role of the holy city’s religious authorities, especially to confirm whether they condone the practice of pleasure marriages. The writer spoke to Sheikh Emad Alassady, who insisted the practice was absolutely illegal. At no one’s surprise, right around the corner from the Sheikh’s main office, another cleric was willing to officiate a pleasure marriage to an underaged child, as well as giving instructions on how to sexually abuse a child without getting caught! It is so imperative that our spiritual leaders take an active role in protecting the most vulnerable. Our future depends on it.
Another victim, Reem, spoke out, expressing that well-known clerics were involved in pimping and pleasure marriage. Women are put in vulnerable situations where their husbands are no longer in the picture, leaving them homeless. In this victim’s case, her husband was killed by a bomb in 2016, leaving her and her two children homeless. When seeking help, she reached out to a well-known cleric for alms. Instead, the cleric had sex with her and pimped her out to his friends. Reem does not provide any names, but verbalized that the cleric is well-known and powerful in her community.
The article follows, “He proposed a pleasure marriage with me. I had to do it to survive,” she said. They would have sex once or twice a week in his office. Then he began bringing his friends, including one who, Reem says, was “famous in the region. He forced me to go into a room with this friend.” Reem then found out the cleric was charging his associates three or four hundred dollars to have sex with her, while she was paid just pocket money. “They were like animals,” she told me. “They have sex with a woman then throw her away.”
One may wonder how these clerics get away with all these horrible acts. Quite simply, clerics relish powerful political connections and benefit from them.
Once the investigation was completed, BBC reporters approached the clerics for their response. Some denied that they performed “mutaa” marriages. Others did not respond. One cleric, Sayyed Raad, denied he performed pleasure marriages and that he was a follower of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, located in the holy city of Najaf, Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric. So BBC reporters went to approach Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani’s office, with evidence, to get a clear understanding of his stance on pleasure marriages. His office’s official response was, “If these practices are happening in the way you are saying then we condemn them unreservedly.” They continued, “Temporary marriage is not allowed as a tool to sell sex in a way that belittles the dignity and humanity of women…A guardian of a girl should not permit her marriage without her consent… and she is not supposed to marry if it’s against the law, which could bring troubles to her.”
Yet, the 89-year-old, Ayatollah Sistani previously wrote in his book, “The Path of the Righteous,” that if a child under nine were promised in marriage or temporary marriage, sexual touching was religiously permitted. When questioned, the Ayatollah’s office told BBC that times had changed, and any mention of the former had been erased from his current books. This leaves a very unclear understanding of the truth behind the words attributed to people, even the ones who claim to be holy.
I’d like to express that these issues occur throughout the world and that this situation in Iraq is one of many many sex trafficking rings. Throughout the whole world, incidents of women being sexually exploited in many different ways, including religious, for immigration processes, financial gains etc. Such cases take advantage of the rights of vulnerable women in every possible way. Their vulnerability holds them captive to horrific situations, preventing them from reporting any incidents or acts of abuse used against them to the authorities. That’s why it is so very important for those in power to protect the most vulnerable.
According to the Polaris Project:
- From 2007 to 2017, the National Human Trafficking Hotline, operated by Polaris, has received reports of 34,700 sex trafficking cases inside the United States.
- In 2017, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children estimated that 1 in 7 endangered runaways reported to them were likely sex trafficking victims.
- The International Labor Organization estimates that there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation globally.
According to USA Today:
- There are more than 4 million victims of sex trafficking globally.
- 99% are women and girls.
- Girls in foster care are particularly vulnerable. Growing up in the system, these girls are promised to be loved and cared for. Seeking acceptance and the need for love provides the traffickers with the easiest way to capture young girls.
- Profits from forced sexual labor are estimated at $99 billion worldwide. According to a 2014 report from the International Labour Organization on forced labor, commercial sexual exploitation accounted for two thirds of the profits from forced labor. And forced sex work commanded the highest profits per victim compared to other types of labor like domestic work.
- Profits are highest per sex trafficking victim in developed economies: The highest number of victims is in Asia, due to the fact that traffickers can charge more for sex acts. The International Labour Organization estimates annual rates of around $80,000 per victim in developed countries and $55,000 in the Middle East.
- Victims are still arrested for crimes they were forced to commit by traffickers. The State Department’s report found that at the state and local level, victims are still being arrested for crimes they’re compelled to commit such as commercial sex work, including child victims. This comes despite a push for “safe harbor” laws, passed in at least 34 states, which are meant to stop child sex trafficking victims from being prosecuted for prostitution and other charges related to commercial sex. Forty-four states have passed laws allowing survivors to seek a court order vacating, expunging or sealing convictions that resulted from acts traffickers forced them to commit.