NEW DELHI: The United Nations envoy on sexual violence, Zainab Bangura, says that teenage girls abducted by Islamic State fighters in Syria and Iraq are being sold in slave markets “for as little as a pack of cigarettes.”

“This is a war that is being fought on the bodies of women,” Bangura said. The UN envoy added that although no official numbers exist for the number of women being traded in these markets, IS fighters “kidnap and abduct women when they take areas so they have – I don’t want to call it a fresh supply – but they have new girls.” Girls are sold for “as little as a pack of cigarettes” or for several hundred or thousand dollars, she added.

Bangura’s statements are based on a trip to Syria and Iraq, as well as neighbouring countries Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, from 16 to 29 April, where she met directly with women who escaped the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captivity and survived sexual violence.

She pointed to instances of forced, temporary and early marriage and described how such practices were encouraged for fighters as part of Jihad and used as a “protection” mechanism for families with no other means of providing for or ensuring safety of young girls. She also noted the sale of women for sex.

“Girls are literally being stripped naked and examined in slave bazaars,” she said, describing how they were “categorized and shipped naked off to Dohuk or Mosul or other locations to be distributed among ISIL leadership and fighters.”

She listed examples of the horrors suffered by women, including one who had been temporarily married over 20 times, after each occasion forced to undergo surgery to repair her virginity.

“ISIL have institutionalized sexual violence and the brutalization of women as a central aspect of their ideology and operations, using it as a tactic of terrorism to advance their key strategic objectives,” she said, going on to describe how women were promised to fighters and how ISIL raised funds through trafficking, prostitution and ransoms. Sexual violence was used to displace populations, to punish, humiliate and demoralize dissenters, to extract information for intelligence purposes and to dismantle social, familial and community structures in order to construct a new “Caliphate.”

Abducting young girls seems to have become part of IS strategy, targeting especially Yazidi women as the group churns out pieces of literature justifying owning and raping Yazidi slaves. “This is how they attract young men: we have women waiting for you, virgins that you can marry,” Bangura said. “The foreign fighters are the backbone of the fighting.”

Examples of this literature can be seen in the latest issue of the group’s English language magazine, “Dabiq.” One of the articles titled “Slave-girls or prostitutes?”, purportedly authored by a “Umm Sumayyah al-Muhajirah” goes as far as defending sex with kidnapped Yazidi girls. Articles like this have shed light on the Islamic State’s treatment of women, and the use of Islamic theology that is widely rejected by the Muslim world as a perversion of the teachings of Islam.

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