How Some Iraqi Clerics Are Facilitating the Country’s Secret Sex Trade

November 12, 2019

Fifteen years of war have had a devastating effect on Iraq’s women and girls.

It’s been estimated that there are more than a million widows in Iraq and more than 800,000 children have lost parents, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation.

And in some cases, the people facilitating that exploitation are corrupt Iraqi clerics.

That’s a key finding from Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade, a documentary that premieres in the second half of FRONTLINE’s multi-part Nov. 12 hour. In the film, BBC News Arabic’s Nawal al-Maghafi reports from inside Iraq — revealing how, to increasing concern among other Iraqi Shias, some clerics are abusing an ancient Islamic marriage practice to exploit women and girls.

With undercover reporting, Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade exposes clerics who offer to perform what’s known as muta’ah or munqata’a — “pleasure” or “temporary” marriages — between adult men and girls as young as 13 in exchange for money.

This practice is illegal under Iraqi law, and as the film reports, there are no reliable statistics about how often the custom is actually used today. But multiple sources tell Maghafi that the practice of entering into brief, temporary marriages for sex is widespread and growing. Some men are specifically looking for “pleasure marriages” to young girls — and some clerics, the film finds, are happy to oblige.

In the above scene from the documentary, an undercover reporter posing as a man seeking a “pleasure marriage” with a 13-year-old girl (who in reality, is also an adult undercover reporter) films a cleric as he officiates the temporary union.

Sayyid Raad, who is licensed to conduct marriages by the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, carries out the ceremony in a taxi, over the phone, for around $200 – never asking to meet the person he believes to be a 13-year-old girl, or talk to her family.

“I’m not thinking this marriage would be that simple,” the male undercover reporter, whose identity is hidden for his protection, recalls in the above excerpt. “He just asked her for her name, and then he began the ceremony.”

For more on how some clerics are facilitating Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade, watch the film when it premieres Nov. 12 at 10:30 p.m. E.S.T/9:30 p.m. C.S.T. It’s the second segment in a two-part hour of FRONTLINE that begins at 10 p.m. E.S.T/9 p.m. C.S.T. In the first segment, Kids Caught in the Crackdown, FRONTLINE and The Associate Press investigate the mass detention of migrant children under the Trump administration.

Tune in or stream Iraq’s Secret Sex Trade on PBS (check local listings), at or on the PBS Video App.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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