In many parts of the North African and Middle Eastern region, sex trafficking is a very serious problem that happens regularly. For example, as stated in Sarah E. Mendelson’s Born Free, in 2014, 276 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped by Boko Haram and were purportedly sold into sex slavery, and it can be easily assumed that similar situations occur under the radar of the media with ease. However, a quick glance online into the sex trafficking of Bahrain doesn’t produce sources listing scenarios such as that of Nigeria, but instead focuses on another very serious human trafficking issue: forced labor.
As I discussed heavily in my second blog post, concerning Bahrain’s history and economy, the small island nation is considered the region’s financial center and economic powerhouse since the 1980s. With a population currently standing at just over 1.2 million and climbing, only 58.4% of these people are of Bahraini citizenship; the rest of the population is mostly comprised of migrant workers who provide cheap labor for Bahrain’s booming business, real estate, and social services. Luckily, in the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report created by the U.S. Department of State, an entire section is dedicated to human trafficking information in Bahrain, and will serve as a great resource for this blog post.
To begin, this report states that Bahrain is a destination country for the men and women of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Eritrea seeking to become domestic workers in the construction and service industries. Unfortunately, some of these workers face conditions of forced labor through use of practices such as: unlawful withholding of passports (effectively trapping them within the country), restrictions on movement (confining them to particular areas within Bahrain or cities within Bahrain), contract substitution (forcing them to switch jobs which they did not intend to apply for), non-payment wages, threats, or physical/sexual abuse. According to this report, women from Thailand, the Philippines, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Eastern Europe states are subjected to prostitution in Bahrain.
These incidences are unsurprising, and are supported by the Bahrain Government’s Labor Market Regulatory Authority’s study, included in the Trafficking in Persons Report, which states that 65% of migrant workers in Bahrain do not see their employment contract, with an additional 89% arriving in Bahrain uncertain of their terms of employment. This withholding of information from these migrant workers is a large contributing factor in the successful trafficking of them into and within Bahrain. In addition to this, this same study also found that 70% of these foreign workers borrowed money or sold property in their home countries in order to secure their job in Bahrain, either forcing them to accept what little wage they are paid in order to pay off their debt, or forcing them to remain in Bahrain as they would be homeless in their country of origin.
As stated in my seventh blog post, Bahrain’s government has, in the past and present, dealt poorly with NGOs, both those founded domestically and internationally. Any time I search for NGOs regarding specific issues in Bahrain, I am routinely met with the same type of information: most NGOs in Bahrain are either closely related to the government while under the guise of a non-government organization, or they remain a true NGO, are opposed by the government, and eventually run out of funding our are too low in support to remain functional or influential. Unfortunately this has also remained true of NGOs fighting for an end to human trafficking in Bahrain, as many have been unsuccessful in promoting the creation of legislation seeking to end human trafficking or to improve the working conditions and rights of those being trafficked within Bahrain. For example, in 2011 several NGOs in Bahrain were ordered to close by the government, including the Bahrain Migrant Workers’ Protection Society.