x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Ordeal of sex trade victim sold by her father

A teenager was locked up by day and forced to work as a prostitute at night, where she endured "countless" rapes.

DUBAI // She was sold by her own father, kept in captivity in the UAE and forced to work as a prostitute for several months - all before she had turned 15. Now being cared for at a shelter in Dubai, the Arab girl - whose name, exact age and nationality are being withheld to protect her identity - is one of the most shocking examples of human trafficking to come to light in the Emirates.

Ghanima Bahri, her case manager, described the case as one of the toughest she had ever dealt with. "It's as if you brought a mirror and threw it on the ground and it shattered," she said. "As a person, she is broken like a mirror and we are trying to put the pieces back together." The girl's mother died when she was just a toddler, and she grew up in a violent home, suffering abuse at the hands of her father and stepmother. Then, when she was "less than 15", she was sold to a group of men by her father, who was told his daughter would would be sent away to work. It is not clear whether he was aware just what kind of work she would be forced into.

The trafficking ring arranged for her to travel to the UAE using a fake identity, passing her off as the daughter of one of the female members of the gang. When she arrived at the beginning of 2009, she was made to dance at private parties and clubs around the country. She was also forced to sleep with men who would pay to have sex with a child. By day she was locked in a room, and in the evenings the cycle would begin again. It is believed that she was forced to work as a prostitute for several months. According to Mrs Bahri, the girl was raped "countless times".

"She told me she stopped counting," she said. "She didn't find peace anywhere and suffered the cycle of abuse. It is one of the toughest cases I have ever seen." After she was found during a police raid last year, the girl was taken to the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children - a shelter for victims of domestic violence, child abuse and human trafficking. Since then, she has been provided with a safe place to recover and rehabilitate as she tries to regain her childhood.

Afra al Basti, the chief executive of the foundation, said she and her staff have been "working hard" to find a way to resettle her, either with family members, if possible, or even in another country. "The foundation has also been working with her consulate here to find a solution, but so far we haven't had any luck," she said. When the girl first arrived to the shelter she was skinny, malnourished and exhibited signs of severe behavioural and psychological problems, according to Mrs Bahri.

"She was angry at herself and the world, helpless with no dreams," she said. "It affected the way she perceived the world, she had no values system. She was broken and felt like she was not worth anything." She found it difficult to interact with others, after years of neglect and abuse and months of being brainwashed by the traffickers. "We tried to change the mentality and show her how to respect her body and to tell her that no one can use it," said Badriya al Farsi, the foundation's manager of social services. "We try to fix the damage she endured."

More than a year on, she is still being cared for and living in the leafy grounds of the foundation, and her case manager says she is "80 per cent" better. After initial medical attention, she was provided with rehabilitation services, from social support to counseling and schooling. According to Mrs Bahri, she had never been to school and could not read or write in her native Arabic. "She's getting her childhood back and living the life she should have had long ago," Ms al Farsi said. "It's a slow process to change."

Trafficking victims are often in constant fear of reprisal by their former captors, who also commonly threaten to harm their family members. Eventually the girl will be repatriated, but without parents to whom she can return, it is proving a difficult task. Those looking after her at the foundation say they will not return her until they are convinced she will be safe. In the meantime, she is making progress and is keen to study.

"She told me she wants to become a doctor," Mrs Bahri said. "She has a desire to help and heal people." zconstantine@thenational.ae