Children trafficked to the UAE have been given a fresh start with families in Europe and Australia to help them overcome the trauma of being sold into the sex trade by their relatives.
The UAE is working with foreign governments and United Nations agencies to find homes in nations that have rehabilitation programmes.
At the 5th Arab Regional Conference on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, police and case workers spoke of entering massage parlours, clubs and beauty salons to reach women forced to work against their will. Some had information about others locked up in apartments and beaten into submission.
“In high risk cases where children have been trafficked by their family we cannot send them home because they will be trapped and trafficked again and again,” said Ghanima Al Bahri, director of care and rehabilitation with the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children.
“We have partnered with UNHCR to resettle children in countries in Europe like Sweden or in Australia.”
The foundation could not provide numbers or ages of children housed with families overseas over the past year.
While the numbers of young victims was small, their plight was distressing due to the physical and mental ordeal they suffer.
In trafficking cases last year, some 34 were women and three involved the sale of children, according to figures from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
Three people were jailed for life and 106 arrested in 2016 for human trafficking.
Rehabilitation abroad is an exhaustive process of matching the sexually exploited children and teenagers with families of similar ethnicity and language.
The young sent abroad over the past year are enroled in schools, and a few in universities, Ms Al Bahri said.
“Some of the children who are very young don’t even know their parents because they were sold several times. We work very hard to find an alternate home and family. They need a better life and new opportunities with another family.”
Teenagers who remember being sold by their families confide to social workers that they cannot go home because they know they will be forced back into prostitution.
Runaway maids too are lured with promises of better jobs and coerced into prostitution.
“From our own statistics, we have noticed that domestic workers are trafficked internally in the UAE because the trafficker manipulates them, gives them false information that if they leave the house they will get 10 times higher salary,” Ms Al Bahri said.
“Since they are not educated, they believe this and run away. Then they are locked up in an apartment, beaten and forced into the sex business.”
Computer, secretarial and make-up courses with companies working with DFWAC to provide training are part of rehabilitation efforts. Most return home to their families after legal proceedings are completed.
Law enforcement officials said trafficking was on the rise and only combined action would stop exploitation.
“The percentage of human trafficking is on the increase and it’s not just the UAE that is facing this,” said Ahmad Youssef Al Mansouri, director of legal affairs, Dubai Police citing a 2016 UN report that women and children victims are from 137 countries including Asia and Africa.
“We need more cooperation because every country should be aware that no single country can combat this alone. Children and women are forced into this because of poverty, political instability and class differences.”
There has been a shift from treating the women as criminals to an understanding that they are victims, said Mansoor Al Balooshi, a Dubai Police officer from the scholarship department.
Focusing only on cases that make it to court do not reflect the widespread problem, he said.
“You may go to a salon or a hotel where the cleaning person may be a human trafficking victim. Unfortunately, the issue is underestimated. Countries treat it as organized crime but we need to look at the victim. Punishment and jail for traffickers, yes, but victims need protection. If the victim is not the centre of our efforts, things will never change.”
He said it required special focus to find young victims.
“It is hard to find the children because they don’t know how to come to us,” Mr Al Balooshi said.
“We look for them in brothel raids, clubs, parties or even begging on streets.”
Police posted at airports lookout for possible victims and distribute information on helplines and centres such as DFWAC and shelters in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.