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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Oman cracks down on prostitution in an attempt to 'clear streets'

Last week, the criminal investigation department said it arrested '100 women of Asian and African nationalities for prostitution' in Al Khuwair, an area of Muscat with a high expatriate population

Oman has reaffirmed its commitment to the country's dollar peg, in spite of the country's recent economic challenges. Getty Images
Oman has reaffirmed its commitment to the country's dollar peg, in spite of the country's recent economic challenges. Getty Images

Oman has launched its latest crackdown on prostitution in an attempt to clear the streets of a vice that police say is controlled by gangs of expatriates.

Last week, the criminal investigation department said it arrested "100 women of Asian and African nationalities for prostitution” in Al Khuwair, an area of Muscat with a high expatriate population. The women are currently awaiting trial, the date of which has not yet been set.

In a rare appeal to the public, the police have asked landlords to be vigilant and report prostitution on their premises, and have also asked for tip-offs from residents of areas where the sex trade is prevalent.

This latest crackdown comes after residents made a series of complaints to the authorities.

“We conducted many raids in the last two years on privately rented buildings in Muscat that are used for prostitution purposes,” a police spokesman told The National. “We also have regular patrols in certain [areas], where residents have complained about sex offences.

“We are now launching a campaign to clear sex trafficking from our streets, but we need landlords, whose accommodations are being used for this purpose, to inform us about the illegal activity.”

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He said that half of the women arrested were illegal migrants, while the rest were registered as domestic workers with valid work permits but under the control of the gangs.

Under Omani law, the engagement or solicitation of prostitution carries a jail sentence between three to five years. Those convicted of trafficking can face up to 15 years in jail.

Since 2014, police have arrested 273 people for engaging in prostitution. They were all sentenced to a minimum of three years in jail.

Residents of Muscat say some brothels are disguised as beauty salons and massage parlours.

“Some of the sleazy salons and massage parlours are actually centres of prostitution. Perhaps the police need to pay more attention to their licensing,” said Fatma Al Zadjali, a 53-year-old civil servant living in Muscat. “These places are run by expatriates with Omani sponsors happy to get their fees and rent. They don’t want to know how they are being used.”

While absconding domestic workers are prostitution recruiters’ prime target, others are lured by the prospect of earning more money.

“When a housemaid is treated badly by her [employer], then she becomes a top target for prostitution recruiters,” said Fareed Al Alawi, whose hired domestic worker was jailed after police caught her engaging in prostitution. “They get free accommodation, food, good pay and no manual work or looking after children.

“Prostitution also gives them a chance to stay in the country send money home.”

Recruiters also bring women into the country on tourist visas from mostly southeast Asian countries and the Indian subcontinent.

“I came to Oman on a tourist visa arranged by a Turkish businessman and worked as a prostitute for three years," said a woman from the Philippines who identified herself as Sophie.

"I was only 18 when I was approached by his agent in the Philippines. He told me it was like any other job, but the pay is good and work is less.

“It was too tempting for a teenager like me, but it got me nowhere. I never enjoyed it and used to cry at night after every job. I stopped when I met my boyfriend, who is also a Filipino. I now have a legitimate job.”

Oman is now considering reducing tourist visas for women from southeast Asian countries to just 10 days from the current 30 days. The women would need to have proof of a return ticket and of a booking at a minimum four-star hotel during their stay in Oman, the police spokesman said.

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