Trafficking girls key part of ISIS recruitment strategy, says UN official

The United Nations says ISIS (Islamic State) forces abduct and sell women and girls for as little as 'a pack of cigarettes.'

Militant Website via AP/File
An undated image posted on a militant website on Jan. 14, 2014, shows ISIS fighters marching in Raqqa, Syria.

Islamic State (IS) sells abducted teenage girls in slave markets as part of its recruitment strategy, said Zainab Bangura, UN envoy on sexual violence.

In an interview with the Guardian, Ms. Bangura mentioned that girls can be sold for as little as “a pack of cigarettes" or as much as several thousand dollars. “They kidnap and abduct women when they take areas so they have – I don’t want to call it a fresh supply – but they have new girls.”

Visiting Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan between April 16 to 29, Bangura has spoken to women and girls who had escaped from captivity in IS-controlled areas.

On Monday, Bangura described the situation of several teenage girls abducted by IS.

“Some were taken, locked up in a room – over 100 of them in a small house, stripped naked, and washed.” Later on they were made to stand in front of a group of men who would decide what the girls “are worth.”

Previously, in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria published on June 5, Bangura explained that after capturing a village, IS fighters "examine" the girls and women, send the "prettier and younger" ones to Raqqa, self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State, and "auction" the rest of the women and girls on an open market.

The kidnapping of girls and women by IS first captured the media attention last summer, when fighters abducted more than 3,500 Yazidi women. According to Amnesty International, these women were then subjected to torture, rape, and other forms of sexual violence.

There are no official figures on the total number of girls and women abducted by IS fighters. The United Nations says abducting girls has become a key part of their strategy.

“This is how they attract young men: 'We have women waiting for you, virgins that you can marry,' ” Bangura said on Monday. “The foreign fighters are the backbone of the fighting.”

The UN estimates that there are more than 25,000 "foreign terrorist fighters" from over 100 countries in the region fighting for IS or the Al-Nusra Front, Syria's Al Qaeda franchise.

But IS, also known as ISIS or ISIL, uses women for many other purposes as well, Bangura explained last month in a statement:

ISIL have institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives. This includes increasing recruitment by promising male fighters access to women and girls; fundraising through the sale of women and girls in slave markets and through ransoms paid by relatives; the transfer and trafficking of girls among fighters and armed groups; use of sexual violence to displace populations; use and threat of sexual violence to extract information for intelligence purposes; to control women’s reproductive capacity; to dismantle social, familial and community structures in order to construct a new “Caliphate”; to punish, humiliate and demoralize dissenters and enforce compliance with their radical ideology.

On Monday, Bangura encouraged communities to welcome back abducted girls, praising the Yazidis for their treatment of girls who had suffered atrocities at the hands of the self-described Islamic State.

Human Rights Watch says Yazidi religious leader Baba Sheikh has instructed the community not to harm, but welcome back those who were raped, abducted, or forced to convert by IS forces.

On an international scale, Bangura hopes to address the UN Security Council soon. Bangura said last month conflict-related sexual violence in the Middle East requires a security and political response, combined with a justice and service response.

Meanwhile, a UN technical team is due to travel to the region to plan ways to help victims of IS sexual violence.

The International Criminal Court considers sexual violence as a crime against humanity when it is committed in a widespread or systematic way.

The UN also has passed several resolutions to trigger action against sexual violence in conflict zones. In 2007, the organization united the work of 13 UN entities under the umbrella of the UN Action Against Sexual Violence in Conflict, also known as StopRapeNow.org.

And in 2010, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon started appointing special representatives on sexual violence in conflict. Zainab Bangura has carried that title since 2012.

[Editor's note: An earlier version neglected to attribute Ms. Bangura's quotations to the Guardian. The Monitor regrets the error.]

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