LONDON - Up to 10,000 women and girls in Iraq have been abducted or trafficked for sexual slavery, prostitution or ransom, rights groups said on Wednesday, as they called for the Iraqi government to crack down on crimes against women.
Campaigners estimate some 14,000 women have been killed since the US-led invasion of 2003, and many women and girls - including children as young as four - have been raped in that time.
Some women have been so traumatized that they have committed suicide, according to a report by Minority Rights Group International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights.
The authors say trafficking in Iraq has "mushroomed" in recent years and that the militant Sunni group Islamic State (ISIS) has become a major actor in the buying and selling of girls.
Mass displacement, economic desperation and the breakdown of law and order have created a ripe environment for traffickers.
Displaced women are particularly vulnerable, as are those who have fled domestic violence or forced marriages.
Some traffickers look for runaway girls in public places such as markets, the report says. Others operate in prisons by posting bail for jailed women and forcing them into prostitution to pay back their debt.
Women trafficked across Iraq end up in Baghdad or northern Iraqi cities or are sent to Syria, Jordan or the United Arab Emirates.
A common trafficking method is for a man to marry his victim through a temporary (mut'a) marriage. Once they reach their destination he divorces her, forces her into prostitution and returns to Iraq to repeat the process.
SOLD LIKE CHICKENS
Outside Iraq, women are sold for up to $20,000. Inside Iraq men may pay $200-$500 for a night with a virgin, according to an Iraqi rights group. In some cases girls have been forced to undergo hymen reconstruction surgery so they can be re-trafficked as virgins.
The report says Islamic State, which controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, has also carried out abductions as a means of controlling populations, spreading fear and procuring wives for fighters.
ISIS captured at least 3,000 women and girls in Iraq in 2014 alone, many of them from the Yazidi minority when ISIS fighters swept through the northern Sinjar region, the authors say.
"ISIS has introduced and legitimized the practice of sexual slavery on an unprecedented scale," the report adds.