Jordan deals with different faces of human trafficking
Amman - Samira, in her 20s, travelled from Egypt a few years ago to work in a hotel in Jordan, hoping she would make money to help her family back home.
Upon arrival, Samira’s employer asked her to sign several papers, including a contract threatening financial penalties reaching 10,000 Jordanian dinars ($14,000) if she violated its terms.
A few days later, she learnt the contract was a total scam.
“On the first day of work, she was sent to work in a nightclub — and this was not part of her contract. But because she has already signed a contract with fines, she was forced to work in the nightclub,” said Makram Odeh, head of a Jordanian Women’s Union shelter dealing with human trafficking cases.
“Samira was later forced to work as a prostitute as her employer also took her passport away,” Odeh said. She said Samira was one of more than 600 cases of human trafficking that authorities have dealt with since 2007, although there are believed to be many other cases that go unreported.
“A few weeks after working as a prostitute, some people helped Samira contact us and we intervened and secured her release, provided her with psychological support at the centre and then she returned home,” Odeh said.
Officially, prostitution is banned in Jordan, a largely conservative patriarchal Muslim society where men have the final say in all family matters. However, brothels exist and are frequented by both Jordanians and foreigners. The government turns a blind eye to prostitution, considered a misdemeanour punishable by a prison term ranging from one month to three years.
Street prostitution also exists, especially in the low-income districts, such as downtown Amman. The prostitutes are mainly Russian, Ukrainian, Filipina, Moroccan, Tunisian, Syrian, Iraqi, Palestinian and Jordanian.
Generally, prostitution is confined to larger cities, such as the capital, which is home to 30% of the country’s 7.5 million people. Remote governorates uphold conservative traditions, which include a prohibition on mixing the sexes in public.
Jordan enacted an anti-human trafficking law in March 2009. The kingdom also ratified the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and its supplemental Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children but that has not helped victims such as Samira and others.
Officially, the Labour Ministry reported that the number of human trafficking cases increased from 92 in 2013 to 165 in 2014.
Labour Minister Nidal Katamine said his office offered shelter to more than 100 possible victims of human trafficking in addition to residency, labour fee exemptions and return airline tickets.
But Katamine insisted that Jordan achieved an advanced rank in combating the problem, citing a 2014 US Department of State Annual Global Trafficking in Persons report.
The report said that Jordan is a destination and transit country for adults and children subjected to forced labour and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. It said some encountered forced labour through the unlawful withholding of passports, delayed payment of wages, long working hours, forced overtime, unsanitary living conditions and verbal and physical abuse. Laila, another woman from Syria, who married a Jordanian back in her country, arrived in Jordan a few years ago. Her husband took away her passport and forced her to work as a beggar. Odeh’s institution intervened and sent her back to her country.
Another case Odeh said she dealt with involved an Asian woman who was in Jordan on a contract to work as a housemaid for one household but ended up working in several houses.
“We solved many of the cases we dealt with but there are many others that we do not know of,” she said.
Most of the human trafficking victims are from Syria, Egypt, Morocco and Asia, she said. Some of the victims are Jordanian women who are sexually harassed by their employers, Odeh added.
Sociologist Hussein Khuzai attributed the rise in human trafficking to a lack of awareness among Jordanians, since the majority do not know that some of their acts can be classified as crimes.
“Many Jordanian families force their housemaid to do too much work and on top of that to work also for relatives. This is a very common example of a human trafficking case that is widespread in Jordan, but people do not know it is a crime,” Khuzai said.
The ignorance of what makes a human trafficking crime is the reason that not many cases are officially reported, Khuzai said. “When people hear ‘human trafficking’, they think it is a Western term that is not found in our societies but unfortunately it is.”
Many cases go unreported because people do not know what their rights and duties are. They might be subject to a human trafficking crime but do not know it is a crime punishable by law, Khuzai explained.
He said common examples of human trafficking in Jordan are organised groups of beggars across the country who force children to work as beggars.
“There’s also the exploitative, usually involuntary selling of kidneys and, more recently, there are many cases of people who receive money to be guinea pigs for new medicines,” Khuzai said.