There are an estimated 25,000 people living in modern slavery in Tunisia (GSI 2018). In 2017, the government observed an increase in child victims of sexual violence and exploitation, some of whom are victims of trafficking. According to a baseline study published in 2013, conducted by the Tunisian government and an international organization, Tunisian youth are subjected to various forms of trafficking. According to the study and as reported by other experts since 2016, some Tunisian girls work as domestic servants for wealthy families in Tunis and major coastal cities; they are highly vulnerable to trafficking, experiencing restrictions on movement, physical and psychological violence, and sexual abuse. Tunisian women have reportedly been forced into prostitution under false promises of work both within the country and elsewhere in the region, such as Lebanon, United Arab Emirates, and Jordan.
After Layla's father lost his job, she was forced to marry at the age of 15. A woman told Layla she could help her escape the physical and sexual abuse she was facing in her marriage. However instead she forced Layla into commercial sexual exploitation. After 4 years, Layla was able to escape to Syria.
My name is Layla. I am 19 years old. I’ve been forced into sex work.
I came from an average family however our situation got worse after my father lost his job. It was because of our family’s circumstances that I found myself in my current situation. They forced me to marry at an early age. A year after the marriage I was beaten and raped by my husband’s brother. I was only 15. I felt so confused and ashamed. I didn’t know what to do, and where to go. A neighbour approached me. She could see that I was upset. She said that she could help me and she could take me to her family in another city where I would be safe. I wasn’t thinking straight. I didn’t know whether I should go home to my husband or to my family. I was so tired and she was so insistent. Without thinking I agreed.
I quickly learned that the woman was not what she seemed and that I was brought here to be forced into selling my body for sex. I was frightened, I was trapped all alone in a new city surrounded by strangers. She beat me and threatened me. I was scared and felt I had no choice.
Over the next four years I was forced to sell myself for sex and over time I became very sick. I felt too ashamed and too frightened to go to the doctors. It was then that I decided that I had to get away and somehow managed to escape to Syria.
Shortly after I came to Syria I watched a TV programme and heard about the services provided by the Syrian Family Planning Association and their centres for young people. I was worried about how sick I felt and knew that I needed help. After giving it some thought I decided to visit the clinic.
At first I was hesitant, shy and full of doubt. What would I tell them? Would they reject me if they learned that I’m from another country, where I was involved in selling myself for sex? Once I found the courage to enter I was made to feel very welcome. They explained to me what kind of services they provided and confirmed to me that the services were confidential, voluntary and free. I was met by a counsellor who was friendly, kind and trustworthy. She took me to a private room and encouraged me to talk to her frankly about my situation. She gave me useful and non-judgemental advice in language that was easy to understand. It was the first time I felt like someone really listened to me, the first time someone saw me as a young woman with dignity.
I was also examined by a doctor who tested me and explained that I had an STI. She provided me with treatment and accurate information about how to prevent infection in the future. I started to feel much more in control of my body and health.
SFPA also referred me to other organisations who help people who are sexually abused. With the help of all of them I have managed to leave behind the life that was forced upon me and I’m now trying to help other young women and girls who went through the same experiences as me. I’m still not sure if I could ever go home but I do feel stronger after benefiting form the services offered by SFPA. I’m getting back my self-confidence and feel that I still have a chance to build a better future. I am a girl with a choice. All around the world girls find themselves in similar circumstances. Every girls has the right to access services and information to make informed decisions and should be supported to turn these decisions into reality.
Narrative and image provided by Girls Not Brides. Original video by International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF)