Agony of Pakistani women enslaved by Dubai sex trade
By Khurram Shahzad, AFP
July 15, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
FAISALABAD, Pakistan--Zunera once dreamed of becoming a computer engineer. Instead, aged 16, the bright-eyed Pakistani girl was tricked into prostitution in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), beginning a four-year nightmare of cruelty, violence and rape.
Pakistan has long been an important source of cheap labor for the Gulf state, particularly its booming construction sector.
But campaigners and officials say hundreds of young Pakistani women are also trafficked every year to supply the thriving sex trade in the brothels and nightclubs of Dubai. Zunera and her sister Shaista were two of them.
More than a year after she escaped, Zunera's pain is still etched into her stumbling, hesitant voice — and also into her body, which bears the marks of countless beatings.
Vivid, angry scars run the length of her legs from ankle to hip, reminders of a botched operation after she was shot three times by the gang who trafficked her.
Zunera and Shaista managed to escape their tormentors in 2013 but still live in hiding in a two-room house in a slum, fearing revenge attacks. AFP is withholding their full names and precise whereabouts for their safety.
Their ordeal began in her hometown in Punjab province, when the family got into money trouble and a neighbor named Ayesha offered the sisters domestic work.
After a while Ayesha suggested she take the sisters to Dubai to work in her beauty parlor, getting fake papers to help the underage Zunera leave Pakistan.
Shaista is so traumatized by her experiences she can barely recount her harrowing ordeal.
Fighting back tears, Zunera revealed the horror that awaited them at Dubai.
"Ayesha took us to the lavatories at the airport and told us that we will be serving her clients for sex," Zunera told AFP.
"We started crying and then she told us that we traveled on fake documents and if we said anything we would be handed over to police right there."
Faced with no alternative, the sisters went with Ayesha, thinking they could just avoid having sex with clients.
"The first time, she herself was present in the room and made us do what the clients wanted. We were raped in front of her and with her assistance," Zunera said.
After that, Ayesha told the clients to keep their cell phones connected to her number during the intercourse so she could hear what was happening — and if they were refusing to cooperate.
"She used to torture us whenever we refused to perform certain sexual acts, and she told us that she knew whatever had happened inside the bedroom," Zunera said.
The women were not allowed to go out or even speak to one another freely. They could speak to their family in Pakistan by phone occasionally, but under duress.
"She used to beat one of us and ask the other sister to talk on phone to our parents, threatening to kill us if we revealed anything about the brothel," Zunera recalled.
In this photograph taken on May 8, sisters Zunera, left, and Shaista speak during an interview with AFP in Faisalabad, where they are in hiding with their family.