Trafficked children tell their stories [Archives:2007/1108/Reportage]

December 3 2007

Saddam Al-Ashmori
Every day, hundreds of Yemeni children between the ages of 9 and 18 find their way to the vast frontiers leading to Saudi Arabia, some accompanied by smugglers or relatives. They go there seeking work or to beg due to their miserable living situations and extreme poverty. Smugglers pay Yemeni parents to take their children to Saudi Arabia; however, such parents don't think about the dire consequences caused by their actions.

These children cross the desert by foot, never suspecting that they've been sold. Often, they are exposed to sexual abuse and torture or coerced into taking drugs until they become addicted. Ruthlessly abused both physically and mentally, their parents don't care about them due to the extreme poverty they experience themselves.

Smugglers find such work profitable, as there are large numbers of children to be smuggled. The buyers or recipients are devoid of their moral principles and religious values. Because they are better off, they seize upon this opportunity to seduce poor parents and then treat the smuggled children badly.

This horrific situation begs the following questions: Where is the Yemeni government? Where are human rights organizations and associations? Have parents lost their mercy and tenderness? Don't their neighbors have any mercy?

“We were confined for a week, during which they committed inhumane acts that are against our values and principles,” one smuggled child recounted. He had found his way to Yousef Al-Naqeeb, seeking his help to release his brother, who had been held with him for more than a week, during which they were abused physically and sexually.

The child continued narrating, “After receiving his commission, the smuggler brought us to the buyers. We asked them about the type of work we were going to do, to which they replied ominously, 'You'll see in the evening.'

“That night, three persons came and attacked us. We attempted to resist, but they beat and handcuffed us and then sexually abused us. They free me in order to feed and get water for my brother, provided that he remained handcuffed,” the child related.

Trafficking themselves

After hearing that many others had succeeded at finding work in Saudi Arabia, 16-year-old high school student Al-Naqeeb decided to go there with some of his friends, but without telling his parents. However, upon his return home, he reported, “I found no job opportunity there, but rather, a chance to be alive here.”

He narrates, “We reached Al-Khubah area in Saudi Arabia via Yemen's Al-Malaheet district, which borders the kingdom. We found dozens of children and elderly people there; every one had a group of children and we all sat together. Suddenly, the Saudi smugglers arrived, asking, 'Children, qat, shammah or fireworks?' Most of the 'goods' were trafficked children.

“We requested the smugglers take us. They dropped us off at a mountain called Al-Mashnaq and we headed to Al-A'redha area and Jazan,” Al-Naqeeb continued.

Sexual abuse

Al-Naqeeb's traveling companion Mohammed went on, “On our way to Al-A'redha and Jazan, we encountered a guy named Al-Kawkabani. He was pale and had a harsh voice. We realized that he had a problem. As we became friendlier, he told us that Saudi security had arrested him and handed him over to Yemeni customs. However, he had managed to smuggle himself into Saudi again. 'I've been in this place eight months,' he said. I asked him, 'Why didn't you return to your family?' to which he replied, 'How can I return jobless and sexually abused?'

“He then narrated the following story: 'The Yemeni smuggler handed me over to the Saudi one, who took me to the employer for which I'd be working. When we arrived, we found two people. They brought us coffee. I fell asleep and awoke two hours later to find myself exhausted and sexually abused. They had drugged my coffee and then photographed me. They discarded me after several days and I've been wandering since then. I neither found a job here, nor did I return home due to the sexual abuse.'

Mohammed continued, “We all agreed that if any one of us found work, we would share it between us. Also, if we returned home, we would contact his father and explain what had happened to him.”

Al-Naqeeb and Mohammed did indeed return to Yemen and contacted Al-Kawkabani's father, who took his son back. However, the father refused to allow his abused son to be photographed for this story, considering it a scandal.

Children's deaths

Bashir Al-Sane', one of three children smuggled into Saudi Arabia, was shocked to hear about the deaths of some smuggled children. He recounts, “When we arrived at the Saudi area of Subia, Yemeni workers told us that a large number of children had died of hunger and thirst either in Al-Karbous Prison located in Jazan area or in Al-Baqar Desert. Some were bitten by snakes. They provided some of the names of the deceased, whose bodies were taken to the hospital. We were flabbergasted, so we decided to return home, surrendering to the Saudi patrol, which took us to Haradh area and then we went home.”

Contacting a smuggler

One smuggler advised the three smuggled children previously mentioned that they wouldn't find a better job except through him, as he had a relationship with some Saudis. Further, he gave them his mobile number so they could call him if they were arrested.

A Yemen Times reporter contacted the smuggler, saying that he wanted to get into this type of work and that he has a large number of children to smuggle. The smuggler knew the smuggling routes, but the reporter, pretending to be an aspiring smuggler, didn't know how the current labor market is or to whom to smuggle the children.

The smuggler informed him that the secure areas for child trafficking are Al-Malaheet, Al-Managrah, Al-Mazariq and Al-A'redha, Al-Khubah and Al-Mashnaq in Saudi territory. He noted that these areas are empty, while others are used to smuggle qat, shammah and fireworks. Additionally, he said Saudi Arabia's Subia area is a famous market for child trafficking.

The smuggler eventually turned off his phone without answering all of the inquiries. At the mobile company, the smuggler's phone is registered to a woman.

Extreme poverty is the reason

Ministry of Human Rights reports issued earlier this year revealed that poverty is one of the key reasons for trafficking children and smuggling them from Yemen into Saudi Arabia. Many Yemenis experience this problem of extreme poverty, rendering their children as its first victims.

The report further indicated that poverty causes deprivation leading to desperation, depression and alienation, as it is the root of many, if not most, problems.