The UAE is an international centre of human trafficking, especially in women and children. According to reports in 2010, human trafficking accounted for a shocking 37 percent of all cases referred to the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children (DFWAC) in 2009, an increase of 28 percent from 2008.
Information from DFWAC’s annual reports shows that 89 cases were referred to the centre in 2009, including cases of child abuse and domestic violence. Of these, 45 percent involved children under the age of 18, and 48 percent of the victims were females. Emiratis (24.7 percent) constituted the largest group of cases (24.7 percent), followed by Bangladeshis (19 percent), Iranians (9 percent), and Iraqis (8 percent). Other nationalities, with one to four victims each, made up the remaining cases.
A documentary programme shown on al-Jazeera in 2009 told the story of an Uzbek woman, ‘Svetlana’, who was forced to work in the sex trade in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The woman recounted how she was lured into prostitution after being offered a job as a waitress, but her passport was taken away from her, and she was threatened with harm to her family if she refused to co-operate. After years of abuse as a sex slave, a common practice, ‘Svetlana’ finally managed to find refuge at the United Arab Emirates’ shelter for the victims of human trafficking, the Abu Dhabi Shelter for Women and Children.
Until a few years ago, very young children were trafficked from South Asia to work as camel jockeys during the popular camel races in the UAE. Boys from Bangladesh and Pakistan, given their availability and small size, have traditionally been the choice. The Bangladeshi National Women Lawyers’ Association estimated that as many as 7,000 boys were smuggled out of Bangladesh during the 1990s for use in camel races. The trade continued despite the official ban on the use of camel jockeys younger than fifteen in 1980. Some reports alleged that the purchased children were abused or beaten to force them to comply with the racers demands. The trade in camel-jockey boys was finally eradicated in 2005, and all children were repatriated to their families in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Camel-jockey boys have been replaced by robot camel jockeys.
Combatting human trafficking
The trafficking of women and girls used in domestic service in the country continues unabated. The victims reportedly come mostly from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. For the UAE’s sex industry, women from Central Asian and Eastern European countries are more often targeted. The government has taken steps to combat human trafficking, but it remains to be seen how effective they will be. For example, the Ministry of Interior has set up the Anti-Human Trafficking Panel to coordinate competent authorities, care for victims, and update the legislature. The UAE has supported the UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking. Anwar Mohammed Gargash, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and chairman of the UAE National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking (NCCHT), expressed the UAE’s agreement with the main features of the international initiative to combat human trafficking, launched on 31 August 2010, which calls for setting up of a UN trust fund for victims of trafficking, especially women and children.