Ninawa Younan Criminologist and ADFA Community Liaison Officer: Free Our Girls

Today marks the adoption, by the General Assembly of the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (resolution 317 (IV) of 2 December 1949. The resolution was created to prevent, protect and prosecute.

And today, 21 million women, men and children are trapped in slavery all over the world.

Last year Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated in his message to the international community that, “..it is vital that we give special consideration to ending modern day slavery and servitude which affects the poorest, most socially excluded groups – including migrants, women, discriminated ethnic groups, minorities and indigenous peoples.”

War and civil conflict has historically increased the number of victims of human trafficking, which often includes sexual exploitation and forced marriages.

Earlier this year I wrote an article about some of the work I have been doing as A Demand for Action representative, a member of Initiatives of Change and an outright humanitarian. In that article I spoke about the story of Christina Khader EBABA, a three year old Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac from Qarakosh, Iraq who was snatched from her mothers arm by an Islamic State militant back in August 2014.

I recently enquired as to whether there was any news about Christina and unfortunately the answer was grim. Christina hasn’t been returned and there is no news as to where she is being kept or whether she is still alive.

Since the Islamic State took control of the city of Mosul and launched a desert attack around Mt. Sinjar in early August, more than 200,000 Assyrians and 500,000 Yazidis have fled their homes.

During the exodus the militants captured thousands of women and young girls as spoils of war and are being held captive in formal and makeshift detention facilities in Iraq and Syria. United Nation officials have stated it could be as many as 2,500 females.

Human Rights Watch reported that young women and teenage girls were systematically separated from their families and forced to marry Islamic State fighters.

In September 2014, Human Rights Watch interviewed 76 displaced Yezidis from Duhok, Zakho and Erbil including 16 Yezidis who had managed to escape their captives. These women reported shocking stories of forced religious conversions, forced marriages, sexual assault and slavery.

Rewshe, a 15-year-old girl who had escaped, told Human Rights Watch that after being held for three weeks she was transported to Raqqa, Syria with her sister and 200 other young women then detained in a house. The following day, armed men took away 20 of the females. The guards later told her that the men had bought the women and girls.

In September 2009, I attended the book launch of ‘Half the Sky – Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide’ at the United Nations headquarters in New York. There I listened to the author and Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times and his wife Sheryl Wudunn speaking about the plight of women worldwide. Also present was the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki –moon and the Executive Director of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. It was quite a high profile event and the room was full of students, journalists and non-governmental organisation representatives.

At the launch Nicholas Kristof was asked by a member of the audience why he focuses so much on sex trafficking in his columns. Kristof recites a story from his book. During a trip to Cambodia he interviewed two young girls who were sold to brothels. Kristof paid a sum of money to the brothels to purchase the girls and give them freedom. After he set both girls free, one of them returned shortly after due to her drug addiction.

For the women and young girls that have managed to escape, support needs to be offered support by States and non-governmental organisations to ensure they are not ostracised by their own communities. Tirana Hassan, one of the Senior Researchers of Human Rights Watch stated, “The biggest taboo is not being captured, it is being [sexually] assaulted,”

The statistics relating to human trafficking are disturbing. Having studied the area during my undergraduate degree and listening to States discuss resolutions at UN committee meetings it continues to be a major issue that not only affects individuals but also families, communities, States and the rule of law.

Today we remember the prevalence of human trafficking. We remember the suffering of women and children worldwide. We advocate and call for the United Nations and countries that were signatories to that resolution to free our girls.