Adapted from an article written by Dr. Donna M. Hughes who is a Professor and holds the Carlson Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies at the University of Rhode Island.
According to an official source in Tehran, there has been a 635% increase in the number of teenage girls in prostitution, or rather, Mutah. The magnitude of this statistic conveys how rapidly this form of abuse has grown. In Tehran, there are an estimated 84,000 women and girls in prostitution, many of them are on the streets, others are in the 250 brothels that reportedly operate in the city. The trade is also international: thousands of Iranian women and girls have been been “contracted in Mutah” to foreigners abroad. The head of Iran’s Interpol bureau believes that the Mutah trade is one of the most profitable activities in Iran today.
High unemployment – 28% for youth 15-29 years of age and 43% for women 15-20 years of age – is a serious factor in driving restless youth to accept Mutah. The Mutah “pimps” take advantage of any opportunity in which women and children are vulnerable. For example, following the recent earthquake in Bam, orphaned girls have been contracted out in Tehran where Iranian and foreign traders meet.
Popular destinations for girls sent for Mutah are the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. According to the head of the Tehran province judiciary, Mutah traffickers target girls between 13 and 17, although there are reports of some girls as young as 8 and 10, to send to Arab countries. The number of Iranian women and girls who are deported from Persian Gulf countries indicates the magnitude of the trade.
Police have uncovered a number of Mutah rings operating from Tehran that have sold girls to France, Britain, Turkey, as well. One network based in Turkey bought smuggled Iranian women and girls, gave them fake passports, and transported them to European and Persian Gulf countries. In one case, a 16-year-old girl was smuggled to Turkey, and then sold in Mutah to a 58-year-old European national for $20,000.
In the northeastern Iranian province of Khorasan, local police report that girls are being sold in Mutah to Pakistani men. The Pakistani men temporarily marry the girls, ranging in age from 12 to 20; they are also sent to Mutah brothels called “Kharabat” in Pakistan. One network was caught contacting poor families around Mashad and offering to temporary marry girls. The girls were then taken through Afghanistan to Pakistan where they were sent to Mutah brothels to work. In the southeastern border province of Sistan Baluchestan, thousands of Iranian girls reportedly have been sold in Mutah to Afghani men. Their final destinations are unknown.
One factor contributing to the increase in prostitution and the sex slave trade is the number of teen girls who are running away from home. As a result of runaways, in Tehran alone there are an estimated 25,000 street children, most of them girls. Mutah “pimps” prey upon street children, runaways, and vulnerable high school girls in city parks. In one case, a woman was discovered selling Iranian girls to men in Persian Gulf countries; for four years, she had hunted down runaway girls and sold them. She even sold her own daughter for US $11,000.
In cities, shelters have been set-up to provide assistance for runaways. Officials who run these shelters are often corrupt; they run prostitution rings using the girls from the shelter. For example in Karaj, the former head of a Revolutionary Tribunal and seven other senior officials were arrested in connection with a Mutah prostitution ring that used 12 to 18 year old girls from a shelter called the Center of Islamic Orientation.
Other instances of corruption abound. There was a judge in Karaj who was involved in a network that identified young girls to be sold in Mutah abroad. And in Qom, the center for religious training in Iran, when a Mutah prostitution ring was broken up, some of the people arrested were from government agencies, including the Department of Justice.
Officials of the Social Department of the Interior Ministry are worried about the increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Unlike other Muslim countries which have a relatively low HIV rate in comparison to the rest of the world, Iran is facing a long and hard battle with HIV due to the institution of Mutah, which is not permissible in the Sunni school of thought. At least 500,000 women make their living from Mutah in Iran, and at least 1.7 million women in Iran have engaged in it on a regular basis, according to sources in Tehran.