A growing number of Iraqi boys are joining the commercial sex trade — some forced to do so by gangs, some out of poverty in a country where official government figures for youth unemployment at 48 % — although the real figure is undoubtedly much higher –according to a report from the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs’ Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN). One boy whose story was told in the report was “Hassan Feiraz, a 16-year-old boy, has started a desperate new life since being forced into the sex trade in Baghdad, joining a growing number of adolescents soliciting in Iraq under the threat of street gangs or the force of poverty.
“Every day I cry at night,â€ Feiraz said. â€œIâ€™m a homosexual and was forced to work as a prostitute because one of the people I had sex with took pictures of me in bed and said that, if I didn’t work for him, he was going to send the pictures to my family. My life is a disaster today. I could be killed by my family to restore their honour,â€ he said, explaining that homosexuality was totally unacceptable in Iraq due to religious beliefs.
There has been a dramatic increase in the number of youths engaged in the commercial sex trade since the fall of Saddam Hussein, according to this report, which attributes the Increase to “economic pressure faced by families countrywide and the presence of new prostitution rings that have sprung up since the invasion. With society in turmoil and a raft of other serious issues to address, child protection has not been uppermost in the priorities of the transitional government. The gangs use money or threats to get teenage boys to work for them, officials said.”
“Many of us are working under threat, but others are there because they donâ€™
t know how to survive and found it as an easy way of getting money,â€ Feiraz said. â€œSomeone should help free us from these criminals.â€
So-called “honor killings” of gay youth are endorsed by many Iraqi religious leaders. “Sheikh Hussein Salah, one of the heads of the Shiâ€™ite Muslim community in Iraq, told IRIN in Baghdad that the families of those boys engaged in homosexual practices should ‘kill them’, whether the situation was forced on them or they entered into it freely. During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Salah said, homosexuality was illegal and homosexual practices were punishable by death. ‘We hope that this will be applied under the new constitution,’ he added.
“Some Baghdadi families said they have stopped their children from going to school or university for fear that they would be lured into the unacceptable trade. ‘If I found that my son was doing something like that, I would kill him straight away, because it is an offence to our God and a crime against our honour,’ Kudaifa Abdul Lateff, father of three teenagers said. ‘Homosexuals are nothing more than animals.’”
The IRIN report says there are only two small local NGOs trying to help the child sex workers. “On of them, Iraqi Peace and Better Future (IPBF), has collected the names of more than 50 teenage boys who say they cannot leave the trade because of threats. Few cases have been resolved, however. ‘We have been trying to do our best in taking those unlucky boys and girls from the streets of the capital,â€ said Abdallah Jassim, spokesman for IPBF. ‘But sometimes we are stopped by the gangs, who threaten us. And the government cannot offer us special security on a daily basis.’ The Iraqi Red Crescent Society (IRCS) is also waiting for approval and funding for a proposed rehabilitation project for teenagers, it said. So far it has had few donors.”
“Meanwhile, with few positive prospects in sight, many boys in Baghdad are living in fear, urging that someone, somewhere come up with a solution to their plight. ‘I hope that one day I will live without the fear that I may find my father with a gun or a knife ready to kill me because he has discovered what I do for a living,’ said Youssef Hatab, a 15 year-old boy.”
Where are the voices of the Human Rights Campaign, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the U.S. commercial gay press demanding that the enrollment by criminal gangs using force and threat of youths into a life of prostitution be ended by U.S. occupying forces? Why haven’t our U.S. gay institutions demanded of Washington that it use all its influence to prevent the puppet Iraqi government it finances, and whose strings it pulls behind the scenes, from criminalizing homosexuality? This is part and parcel of the problem I raised in a recent article for Gay City News — that our major gay institutions, by and large, ignore the oppression of same-sexers in other cultures, and flee from helping gay youth either at home or abroad for fear of being tarnished with suspicions of pedophilia in the context of the anti-pedop[hile witch-hunts in this country (only heightened by the endless revelations of the sexual exploitation of children by the hypocritical, conservative closet cases of the Catholic Church). This silence, this ostrich-like attitude, is shameful — something we should remember while this year’s celebrations of “Gay Pride” are still ringing in our ears.