2011 Trafficking in Persons Report on Laos
2011 Trafficking in Persons Report on Laos
June 27, 2011
LAOS (Tier 2)
Laos is a source, and to a much lesser extent, a transit and destination country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking, and men, women, and children in conditions of forced labor in factory work, domestic labor, agriculture, and the fishing industry. Lao men, women, and children are found in conditions of forced labor in Thailand, Malaysia, and China. Many Laotian migrants, particularly women, pay broker fees to obtain jobs in Thailand, normally ranging from $70 to $200, but are subsequently subjected to conditions of sexual servitude and forced labor in Thailand’s commercial sex trade or in domestic service, garment factories, or agricultural industries subsequent to their arrival. Lao men are subjected to conditions of forced labor in the Thai fishing and construction industry. Many Lao nationals formally identified as victims trafficked in Thailand choose to take the risk of attempting migration to Thailand again after being repatriated to Laos. A small number of Lao women and girls reportedly are subjected to conditions of trafficking in China, where some are forced to marry Chinese men. Ethnic minority populations are particularly vulnerable to trafficking in Thailand, due to their lack of Thai language skills and unfamiliarity with Thai society. Laos is increasingly a transit country for Vietnamese, Chinese, and Burmese women who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Thailand. Some Vietnamese women are subjected to forced prostitution in Laos. Although there are fewer reported instances, trafficking within Laos also remains a problem, affecting young women and girls forced into prostitution. Lao men and boys are victims of forced labor in the country on agricultural plantations, including rubber plantations. Laos may be increasingly a destination for sex tourists from Asia.
The Government of Laos does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government reported investigating 20 trafficking cases and convicting 33 trafficking offenders, a dramatic increase from zero convictions during the previous reporting period. However, the government has never administratively or criminally punished any public official for complicity in trafficking in persons. The government also began efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims who were deported by Thai authorities for immigration violations. The government continued to rely almost completely on NGOs and international organizations to provide victim assistance.
Recommendations for Laos: Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute both sex and labor trafficking offenders, including through cooperation with Thai authorities on cross-border trafficking cases; make efforts to address internal trafficking, including by identifying and assisting Lao citizens trafficked within the country and prosecuting their traffickers; increase efforts to combat trafficking complicity of public officials, including through the criminal prosecution of officials involved in trafficking crimes; regulate labor recruitment agencies tasked with processing work permits and contracts to prevent the trafficking of migrant workers; create and implement formal victim identification procedures and train police and border officials to systematically identify trafficking victims, particularly victims returning from Thailand; improve coordination between Thai authorities and the central government regarding victim assistance and between the Vientiane transit center and local communities regarding victims’ return and reintegration; make greater efforts to conduct family assessments to determine whether it is in the best interest of victims to return to their families; consider opening a transit center in Savannakhet for victims repatriated from Thailand; increase resources to support victims in reintegration after returning to their home communities; expedite the processing of NGO memoranda of understanding (MOUs) to implement anti-trafficking projects; implement and support a visible anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed at clients of the sex trade; and increase collaboration with international organizations and civil society to build capacity to combat trafficking in persons.
The Lao government made progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year. Laos prohibits all forms of human trafficking through its 2006 revision of Penal Code Article 134, which prescribes penalties ranging from five years’ to life imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Authorities reported investigating 20 trafficking cases involving 47 alleged offenders, and convicting 33 trafficking offenders in 2010, compared with zero convictions during the previous year. However, court proceedings lacked due process and transparency, the Lao judicial sector remained weak and inefficient, and prison conditions raised serious human rights concerns. The general public’s reluctance to use the court system hampers the government’s ability to effectively pursue trafficking cases; most Lao prefer to rely on village mediation to resolve conflicts. In at least seven of the 33 convictions, sentences ranged from six years’ to over 16 years’ imprisonment. International organizations and NGOs were not able to verify data provided by the government. The government did not report prosecuting any cases of internal trafficking. Impunity of corrupt government officials remained a problem throughout the Lao justice system. Corruption is endemic in Laos, and observers of trafficking in Laos believe that some public officials – particularly at local levels – are involved in facilitating human trafficking, sometimes in collusion with their Thai counterparts. Nevertheless, the government has never reported any officials investigated, prosecuted, or punished for involvement in trafficking in persons. The government continued to partner with international organizations and NGOs on law enforcement capacity building.
The Government of Laos made increased efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims during the reporting period. While the government did not create or implement formal victim identification procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrants returning from Thailand and girls and women detained for involvement in prostitution, authorities reported efforts to identify trafficking victims among the tens of thousands of Lao citizens deported by Thai authorities during the year. Victims were provided with medical care and some were referred to shelters. The government was unable to provide the number of victims identified among deported migrants, but reported that in some groups of deportees, 50 to 100 sex and labor trafficking victims were identified and referred to the police for investigations. The government continued to rely almost completely on NGOs and international organizations to provide victim services. Lao authorities did not report identifying any foreign victims of trafficking during the year. In 2010, Thai authorities identified and repatriated approximately 145 Lao victims under an official repatriation mechanism, almost all of whom were underage girls. The Lao Embassy in Bangkok assisted in coordinating repatriation of Lao nationals who were identified as trafficking victims in Thailand. The Lao Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW), with support from an international organization, continued to operate a small transit center in Vientiane for victims identified and repatriated by Thai authorities; the victims remained in the shelter for one week while authorities conducted medical check-ups and family tracing. However, while most repatriated victims were from southern Laos, all victims were required to be processed through the Vientiane transit center in central Laos. Female victims who were interested in receiving greater assistance were referred to one of three NGO shelters or a Lao Women’s Union (LWU) shelter that assists victims of domestic violence or trafficking that provided longer term care and vocational training. There were no such shelters available for male victims of trafficking. The transit center also received victims referred from local law enforcement officials, but authorities did not report how many domestic or foreign victims were referred to the transit center or shelters. The LWU operates counseling centers in six provinces to provide information about trafficking prevention and, with the assistance of international NGOs and foreign donors, helped to run a shelter in Vientiane to assist victims and help reintegrate them into society. Women and children who are identified as trafficking victims are exempted from criminal prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of trafficking, but the law does not protect men from prosecution. The government reported encouraging victims to cooperate with prosecutions, but did not provide witness protection to victims. While the government depended on NGOs to provide resources for many trafficking initiatives, inefficiency within the government in the signing of NGO MOUs has caused lengthy delays in implementing anti-trafficking efforts in Laos. The Law on Development and Protection of Women includes protection provisions for victims of trafficking, but these provisions do not apply to men. Victim protection guidelines were drafted with support from the UN and NGOs, but are awaiting government approval. Victim access to legal redress is hampered by a lack of resources on the part of victims and the legal community. Trafficking victims are allowed to file civil suits against their traffickers, though this has never been done in practice. Victims are not made aware of legal resources available, even if local officials in their areas received training on human trafficking. Laos does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
The Lao government continued limited efforts to prevent trafficking in persons with assistance from international organizations and NGOs. The MLSW continued work with UNICEF and NGOs on public awareness efforts on the risks of child trafficking. Government-controlled media continued to report on human trafficking in newspapers. Authorities continued to publicize warnings about child sex tourism during the year. In September 2010, the Lao Youth Union hosted a seminar on human trafficking prevention. During the year, the Ministerial Committee on Trafficking continued to meet on a quarterly basis. The National Assembly approved a National Plan of Action on human trafficking in 2007 that has yet to be approved by the Prime Minister’s Office. In April 2010, the government signed an MOU on victim repatriation with the Government of Vietnam. Authorities did not employ screening procedures to identify trafficking victims among persons found in prostitution during raids of nightclubs used as fronts for commercial sex. The government did not make efforts during the year to reduce the demand for commercial sex.