ALMADEN, California — Human trafficking of both children and adults for the purposes of servitude and sexual exploitation remains a significant issue in Iran. Tensions and conflict between Iran and other countries have turned Iran into a political arena that neglects much of the humanitarian problems that the nation faces internally. The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. Department of State ranks Iran as a Tier 3 nation, meaning it “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” and “is not making significant efforts to do so.” The severity of human trafficking in Iran necessitates urgent action.
The 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report on Iran
The U.S. Department of State ranks nations on anti-trafficking efforts in accordance with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which provides “minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.” In terms of anti-trafficking efforts, the Department of State ranks Iran as a Tier 3 nation — the lowest rank possible. A Tier 3 classification denotes the most unfavorable status concerning human trafficking by international standards. In 2020, a total of 20 countries fell within this lowest tier, including Afghanistan, China, Syria and North Korea.
The Department of State notes government complicity in the trafficking of both children and adults in Iran. The recruitment of child soldiers is ongoing as is sex trafficking of adults, yet “government officials [continue]to perpetrate and condone trafficking crimes with impunity.” Not only is the Iranian government not taking action to combat human trafficking or hold perpetrators accountable but government officials are also explicitly complicit in the matter. In addition, the Department of State notes a government failure “to identify and protect trafficking victims,” commonly “[treating]trafficking victims as criminals,” even children. Victims of human trafficking face varying degrees of punishment in Iran, sometimes as severe as execution.
Despite legislation to prosecute and punish perpetrators of human trafficking in Iran, Iran did not report any incidents of human trafficking in 2021. The Iranian government itself also coerces adult men and young boys to join and fight in militias based not only in Iran but also in other countries, most notably Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. Many of these individuals, some “boys as young as 13 years old”, are not even Iranian — the Iranian government exploits illegal immigrants and often trafficks individuals from foreign countries as well. In addition to this, the Iranian government funds militias and trains child soldiers for combat.
In spite of existing laws prohibiting human trafficking in Iran, the issue continues. In 2004, Iran adopted the Law on Combating Human Trafficking, which “prohibits trafficking in persons through the use of threats, force, coercion, abuse of power or of a position of the vulnerability of the victim for purposes of prostitution, removal of organs, slavery or forced marriage.” The punishment for the crime of trafficking “is up 10 years’ imprisonment.”
This 2004 law contains loopholes and provides its own definition of human trafficking, inconsistent with the definition under international law. The law fails to include “all forms of labor trafficking” as defined by international law and requires that victims provide proof of movement for a crime to be punishable as trafficking. Furthermore, in child sex trafficking cases, the law calls for a “demonstration of force, fraud or coercion.” These legislative shortcomings mean human trafficking prosecutions are infrequent.
Immediate Action for the Future
In September 2020, officials from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) met with Iranian officials “where the parties expressed their support to enhancing partnership against trafficking in persons.” A few months prior, in June 2020, Iran agreed to implement the Global Action against Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants (GLO.ACT- Asia and the Middle East) in Iran. The GLO.ACT is a four-year program by the UNODC, the European Union and the International Organization for Migration, addressing trafficking in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran. The initiative, with the cooperation of the relevant countries, brings hope to the situation of human trafficking in Iran and beyond.
The Gravity of the Situation
The situation in Iran is dire. Given the pandemic and increased political and economic turmoil in the country, the issue of human trafficking has only become more severe. Iran must begin to give the issue of trafficking the attention and resources necessary to reduce it. By rewriting domestic policies, reframing attitudes and moving to eliminate the systems in place that promote human trafficking, Iran can create change. Human trafficking in Iran must become more of a priority for the sake of those suffering at the hands of traffickers.
– John J. Lee