Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Connection between Sex-Trafficking, Prostitution & Polygamy

I came across this article. I find it interesting hows the issues has been discussed on the sex-trafficking, prostitution & polygamy.  

From the Altmuslimah sex-trafficking series
Connections between sex trafficking, prostitution and polygamy
By Uzma Mariam Ahmed, June 20, 2009

One of the primary reasons why Islam was revealed was to guarantee and
clarify the important basic rights of women, and particularly their
rights with regards to marriage, divorce, alimony, custody and related
issues. We should not allow horrors such as sex trafficking,
prostitution, and other sexually exploitative unions to hide within
the guise of Islamic marriages.

Sex trafficking and prostitution are not unique to Muslim people or to
Muslim countries. They are, however, harder to identify when they take
shelter within the confines of Islamic marriages. In religions that
only recognize monogamous marriages, it is easier to take the first
step of categorizing a relationship as deviating from a real marriage.
In Islam, however, both monogamous and polygamous marriages are
considered legitimate, and Muslims from different parts of the world
and from varying schools of Islamic thought have created forms of
purported marriages that, in some instances, seem difficult to
distinguish from prostitution. Furthermore, because some Muslims find
room for debate about the rules governing marriage, as well as
divorce, alimony, custody, and child support issues, there is a
potential for the creation of suspect relationships labeled as

Even a cursory survey of practices existing within the guise of
Islamic marriages reveals that the boundaries of legitimate marital
unions have been expanded to hide within their folds all manner of
exploitative relationships. These include associations which are, in
fact, sex trafficking and prostitution; one partner is either forcibly
used for sex or is compensated through some monetary benefit.

These relationships range from those that are relatively easy to
categorize as truly exploitative to those that appear to be legitimate
polygamous unions, but do not conform to the Islamic requirements of a
polygamous marriage. Though they exist on a wide spectrum, these
relationships share commonalities. The most fundamental is that these
unions deviate from the Qur'anic rules for both monogamous and
polygamous marriages. They are also generally solemnized and
consummated privately, their existence hidden from public view. The
Prophet was known to have said, “What distinguishes the lawful from
the unlawful was the drum and shouts of the nikah [marriage day].”
Because these relationships are hidden from society, they also all
involve situations where the Islamic rights of monetary support for
spouses and children are denied.

The relationships easiest to recognize as pure sexual exploitation are
those that involve sex trafficking, a form of sexual slavery. One
famous instance was brought to light by Nicholas Kristoff of The New
York Times, who in 2006 covered the story of Aisha Parveen, a 20 year
old Pakistani woman who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution as
a 14 year old. Mian Sher, the man who kidnapped her and acted as her
pimp, kept her as his youngest wife. During her six years as his
slave, he beat her daily and sexually tortured her. Parveen finally
managed to escape with the help of a man who was in the house doing
repairs, and the two fell in love and married after their escape. Mian
Sher was enraged, and he brought a case against Parveen for adultery,
based on the legal argument that Parveen was his wife and had
unlawfully fled with a lover. His plan was to then bail her out and
take her back to the brothel.

Nicholas Kristoff began covering Parveen’s story while she was waiting
for a verdict from the court, and the Pakistani and international
press picked up on Parveen’s story. The publicity led to the court
dismissing the case, allowing Parveen to permanently escape from Mian
Sher. The fact that Mian Sher felt emboldened enough to pursue legal
avenues to recover his sexual slave, based on this fictionalized
marriage, indicates the grievous state of the law with regards to
women’s rights in Pakistan. It also indicates that corruption and
relaxed standards allow men to practice putative polygamous marriages
and engage in terrible crimes, such as trafficking, under their guise.
When Kristoff asked renowned Pakistani human rights attorney Asma
Jahangir about Parveen’s case, Jahangir explained that she was
completely unsurprised about Parveen’s situation, because it happens
all the time in Pakistan.

While this instance is clearly sex trafficking hiding within the
pretext of a marriage, there are other relationships which are harder
to qualify as such, but still appear closer to prostitution than
legitimate marital unions. For instance, mut’aa marriages are
temporary marriages which are practiced by Shia Muslims. In a mut’aa
marriage, men (and sometimes women) agree to pay their partners a
certain sum of money for a marriage lasting a set period of time. The
putative husband can end the contract before the expiration of the
agreed upon period, but a wife must compensate the husband if she
wants to end the union more quickly. Though Shia law recognizes the
children of such marriages as legitimate, in practical terms it is
difficult for women to prove the paternity of these children, because
there are no witnesses to the creation of a mut’a relationship and no
registration requirements. It is entirely a private transaction.

Similar to mut’aa marriages are urfi marriages practiced primarily in
Egypt. These are referred to as secret marriages, as they are not
sanctioned by the bride’s family, but they are actually conducted by a
Muslim cleric in the presence of two witnesses. However, they are not
officially registered and are not binding on the man. These marriages
exist outside of the formal marriage contracts required by the Quran,
even though there is usually a document containing some basic terms
which is signed by the couple and two witnesses. Furthermore, though
they were officially recognized under Egyptian law in 2000, women
involved in these marriages have no rights to alimony or child

While temporary and non-public marriages such as mut’aa and urfi deny
the partners the rights given to full-fledged Islamic marriages, there
are even “real” Islamic marriages that are used to hide sex
trafficking and prostitution. There are prominent examples
highlighting this problem. One is of men from Arabian countries in the
Gulf states travelling to places like India and Indonesia and marrying
young girls from poor families. The families are given gifts and money
and led to believe that their daughters will return to the husbands’
home countries to lead stable and respectful lives. Instead, the
husbands spend a few days or weeks with the wives in hotels and then
divorce them and return to their own countries. The women return to
their families humiliated, disgraced, and often pregnant, with little
means of tracking down the husbands or seeking alimony or child

Another example of troubling “legal” marriages includes unions
involving Muslims who marry for immigration benefits. The couple
decides to enter into marriages with the express purpose of one spouse
sponsoring the other for legal status, and the other typically agrees
to provide sexual services in return. This phenomenon is on the rise
in the United States, and, in fact, often involves individuals who
entered the marriages with the belief that they were the real thing.
Again, if the exchange for one of the parties is simply sex for a
benefit like immigration status, which clearly is an economic benefit,
the line between a marriage and prostitution is blurry. As with other
marriages discussed here, these marriages are in many instances hidden
from public view and carried out as private transactions.

Finally, at the very end of this spectrum, there are the polygamous
marriages that men carry out as a cover for an affair. Both mut’aa and
urfi marriages can be polygamous, but even so-called “traditional”
polygamous marriages are sometimes officiated without the consent or
knowledge of the first wife, or the knowledge of the community. These
are particularly easy to spot as affairs in countries that do not
recognize polygamous unions, and the second or third marriage is
therefore only officiated by a cleric from the community.

There is clearly a need for dialogue within the global Muslim
community about the purpose and rules of marriage, and a need to
soundly reject many of the unions discussed here. One of the primary
reasons why Islam was revealed was to guarantee and clarify the
important basic rights of women, and particularly their rights with
regards to marriage, divorce, alimony, custody and related issues. We
should not allow horrors such as sex trafficking, prostitution, and
other sexually exploitative unions to hide within the guise of Islamic

Uzma Mariam Ahmed is Contributing Writer to Altmuslimah

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