We are going to Kirkuk’s Ring Road in broad daylight. Once we parked the car, a woman approaches us and asks us to lower the windshield. Without any signs or discussion, she immediately asks two questions; do you have a place and how much time do you need.
A brunette woman, dressed in black, with dark black tattoo eyebrows and part of her face hidden by her headscarf, appears to be between 45 and 50 years old.
When she knows that we are not buyers and that we are reporters investigating prostitution at the street, she retreats.
Once we affirmed her that we will keep it anonymous, she agrees to speak up.
"I am from another Iraqi province and I am working as a prostitute on this street with three other women," she said.
The long street encircling Kirkuk is famous among the people for this phenomenon” women everywhere in the daylight looking for customers. Through several entrances, the road connects Kirkuk to Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and many other parts of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq KRI.
“We mostly go with drivers who are alone or with one assistant. If there are more people in the car, we are afraid of our lives and we will not go,” she told KirkukNow.
We walked down the street; From 9 am to 1 pm we saw several other women, most of them were above 40-years-old, which is unlike any other time and has never been so widespread before.
From other provinces to Kirkuk
More than once in two months, we have been to the Kirkuk circular for field investigation. Some vehicles call the women themselves, while others are approached by the women once they stop their vehicles.
On the outskirts of the city, there are no public places such as shops and supermarkets to stop for shopping.
“I have been in Kirkuk for more than a year and I have been working as a prostitute. We stand on this street for several hours every day,” another woman anonymously told us. “In some days, we go with a driver and get 25,000 Dinars (USD16).”
If they don’t come the street, they go out with the customers after coordination over the phone. They share their phone numbers with clients and people they trust.
“We prefer to go out with the truck drivers because they have a place in the car and they don't need to look for a place,” she said.
I have to beg or do this to pay for my child's milk and diapers
These women deal and bargain with their clients: some of them ask for 25,000 Iraqi dinars IQD or 15,000 (USD10), some of them go for even only 5,000 IQD.
It is very difficult for the media to obtain information during field investigations, as sometimes have to take photos secretly because they do not want to be shown in the media.
Another woman said she moved to Kirkuk to earn a living. “I have a small child and I am divorced from my husband, so I have to beg and earn money.”
She and some other women say they were repeatedly dumped by men on a remote street after sex without payment.
Most of the women are dressed in black, dealing with people without lipstick and very little makeup, with minimal parts of their faces and bodies visible.
Some claimed that there were gangs among the women and that they were led by a group. However, KirkukNow could not confirm this information.
In addition to the circular street, some women under the name of begging, divination and prostitution deal with citizens in the market and many other places of Kirkuk.
“A woman stopped my car in a street in the city center and asked for money. I gave her money but she said why don't you come with me? You give me 25,000 dinars and don't worry about the place.”
Some of these women pay small amounts of money for housing and other places to sleep with men for an hour or more.
Many of the women interviewed by KirkukNow in Kirkuk Ring Road stressed that they have no health check-ups during prostitution, do not use any other medications except contraceptives and do not take preventive measures against communicable diseases.
"Unfortunately, this ugly phenomenon includes many communicable diseases, such as AIDS, skin diseases and liver viruses, as well as several genital diseases," Mundhir Nouman, director of the communicable diseases department in Kirkuk Health Office, told KirkukNow.
Health authorities do not track statistics on the risk of these diseases due to prostitution and those infected.
This ugly phenomenon includes many communicable diseases
"We are constantly issuing guidelines and awareness about sexually transmitted diseases because these people do not use anything to prevent infectious diseases," the health official said.
During KirkukNow's field investigation, no police and security forces were seen in the circular street.
However, Kirkuk police spokesman Amer Nuri said that police are constantly patrolling the streets to arrest any such cases and hand them over to the police stations.
According to the Iraqi Anti-Prostitution Law No. 8 of 1988, prostitution and brokerage are prohibited, and brokers and those who use places for prostitution are punishable by up to seven years in prison.
The same law dictates 10 to 15 years in prison for anyone who, by deception, coercion or threat, keeps another person in a place and forces them into prostitution.
"We will take all measures to eliminate this phenomenon in Kirkuk, unfortunately, there are people in some places such as the streets or old hotels in the city, who stay there as beggars or stand in traffic in the name of begging and do other things.”
According to the anti-prostitution law, anyone convicted of prostitution is placed in a correctional facility for three months to two years. If he or she does not stay in the cell and escapes, then is sentenced to one year in prison.
If the detainee does not re-engage in prostitution or marriage for the sole purpose of escaping punishment or is proved by a report to the court, the detainee can lead an ordinary life.
Kirkuk police spokesperson said that four women were arrested in the latest operation of the security forces, who were working as prostitutes in the circular street of Kirkuk-Baghdad and earlier in the Panja Ali neighborhood of the city, a woman was rescued from kidnapping.
Prostitution or human trafficking?
According to Sirud Ahmad, head of the Kirkuk branch of the Iraqi Amal (Hope) Association, cases such as the circular street “are cases of human trafficking.”
Forcing women and girls into prostitution falls within the framework of human trafficking, which is punishable by life imprisonment and a fine of up to 25 million IQD, if the child is a girl under the age of 18, according to the law 28 of 2012 against human trafficking.
Article 37 of the Iraqi permanent constitution prohibits sex trafficking.
The government should pay salaries of the poor so that they do not have to do so
The director of the Kirkuk branch of Amal Association, during the field investigation KirkukNaw, met one of the women in the circular street of Kirkuk and talked to her.
The woman was 42 years old, but her face looked much older. She was very disappointed of the government for having no plans and for going through a lot of trouble because her husband was killed in the sectarian war and she was taking care of her three children.
"She has been able to send her children to school with begging money and this work, even though she has no salary," Ahmad sadly said.
Ahmad said more than 10 vehicles stopped and asked the woman to go with them during the few minutes she was talking to her.
“The government, especially the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, should try to pay monthly salaries for these poor people as soon as possible so that they do not become so desperate and resort to prostitution,” she suggested.
According to the law against prostitution, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs must have a reform plan to improve the behavior and culture of those who engage in prostitution so that they can reintegrate into society through reform and earn an ordinary living in a decent way.