Burma is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, and for women and children subjected to sex trafficking in other countries. Many Burmese men, women, and children who migrate for work to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, the United States, China, Bangladesh, India, South Korea, and Qatar are subjected to conditions of forced labor or sex trafficking in these countries. Poor economic conditions within Burma have led large numbers of Burmese men, women, and children to migrate legally and illegally throughout East Asia and to destinations in the Middle East, where many are subject to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men are subjected to forced labor in the fishing and construction industries abroad, where women and girls are also subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude. The government is beginning to address the systemic political and economic factors that cause many Burmese to seek employment through both legal and illegal means in neighboring countries, where some become victims of trafficking. Trafficking within Burma both by government officials and private actors continues to be a significant problem. Military personnel and insurgent militia engage in the unlawful conscription of child soldiers and continue to be the leading perpetrators of forced labor inside the country, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas. Since the dissolution of a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army in June 2011 and sectarian violence in Rakhine State in June and October 2012, fighting has displaced an estimated 75,000 Kachin and 115,000 Rakhine residents who are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. There were reports during the year that Burmese officials kidnapped Rohingya women from Sittwe and subjected them to sexual slavery on military installations. There are reports that victims deported from Thailand into Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA)-controlled areas of Burma continue to be extorted and re-trafficked by DKBA elements, in collusion with Thai officials. Since authorities refuse to recognize members of certain ethnic minority groups (including the Rohingyas) as citizens and do not provide them with identification documentation, members of these communities are made more vulnerable to trafficking. During the year, there were reports that some Rohingya asylum seekers transiting Thailand en route to Malaysia were sold into forced labor on Thai fishing boats, reportedly with the assistance of Thai military officials. Military and civilian officials have systematically forced men, women, and children into working for the development of infrastructure, in state-run agricultural and commercial ventures, and as porters for the military. The Burmese military, and to a lesser extent, civilian officials have used various forms of coercion, including threats of financial and physical harm, to compel households to provide forced labor. Those living in areas with the highest military presence, including remote border areas populated by minority ethnic groups, are most at risk for forced labor. The Kachin ethnic minority are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to an ongoing conflict between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army.
Military and, to a lesser extent, civilian officials subject men, women, and children to forced labor, and men and boys as young as 11 years old are forced through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence to serve in the Burma Army as well as the armed wings of ethnic minority groups. Some observers estimate that thousands of children are forced to serve in Burma’s national army in part as a way of offsetting desertions. Children of the urban poor are at particular risk of conscription. Past UN reports indicate that army recruiters have targeted orphans and children on the streets and in railway stations, and young novice monks from monasteries for recruitment or conscription. Anecdotal reports indicate that some children are threatened with jail if they do not agree to join the army, and are sometimes physically abused. Children are also subjected to forced labor by private individuals and groups in tea shops, home industries, agricultural plantations, and as beggars. Economic migrants from central Burma and the Irrawaddy Delta migrate to Kawthaung, the southernmost point in the country, in search of work in fishing or agriculture; failing this, many ultimately travel to Thailand, where some are subsequently subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. There were anecdotal reports that some were forced to labor on palm oil and rubber plantations near Kawthaung. Those seeking work in Thailand’s fishing and domestic work sectors did so outside formal channels, as these industries are not included in the memorandum of understanding between the two countries, which allows Burmese migrants to work in certain industries in Thailand. Networks on both sides of the border facilitate migration of undocumented workers, which often leads to their being trafficked upon arrival in Thailand. Exploiters subject children and adults to domestic servitude, and girls and boys to sex trafficking, particularly in urban areas. There is evidence that a small number of foreign pedophiles have attempted to enter Burma with the intent to exploit Burmese children, and some may have entered the country. Outside observers and Burmese authorities have both expressed concern over a possible increase in the problem as tourism in Burma increases.
The Government of Burma does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued implementation of the numerous reforms it undertook during the previous reporting year, and it modestly increased its efforts to prevent trafficking. In June 2012, following five years of discussions, the government signed an action plan with the UN to eliminate the recruitment and use of children in its armed forces, though unfettered UN access to military bases has since been problematic. Authorities continued efforts to address the cross-border sex trafficking of women and girls, and increased the number of dedicated anti-trafficking officers in its police force. Nevertheless, the government’s victim protection efforts remained inadequate. The lack of specialized services and rehabilitation efforts, as well as weak local-level coordination between police and social welfare officials, undermined its ability to successfully prosecute and punish trafficking offenders. Forced labor of civilians and the recruitment of child soldiers by both military officials and private entities remained serious problems. The climate of impunity and repression created under the previous government and the lingering lack of accountability in military ranks for forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers continue to represent the primary causal factors for Burma’s significant trafficking problem; therefore, Burma is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year.
Recommendations for Burma: Vigorously prosecute and punish offenders of both sex and labor trafficking, including trafficking occurring within Burma; continue to implement the terms of the ILO action plan for the elimination of forced labor offenses perpetrated by government employees, particularly military personnel; increase efforts to investigate and sanction, including through criminal prosecution, government and military perpetrators of internal trafficking offenses, including child soldier recruitment and other such crimes; actively identify and demobilize all children serving in the armed forces; abide by the terms of the UN-backed action plan to grant international monitors unhindered access to inspect recruitment centers, training centers, and military bases to support the identification, demobilization, and rehabilitation of child soldiers; ensure no children are arrested or imprisoned for desertion or attempting to leave the army; through partnerships with local and international NGOs, prioritize and significantly increase victim identification and protection efforts, including victim shelters and provision of services for male victims; develop and implement formal victim identification and referral procedures, including for victims identified within the country; consider appointing labor attachés to work in additional overseas diplomatic missions to support the prevention of forced labor of Burmese migrants abroad; and focus more attention on the internal trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation.
The Government of Burma reported continued anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year, focusing primarily on the recruitment and transport of Burmese women and girls across international borders for forced marriages and sex trafficking. There were reports from the local media and other observers of efforts to prosecute and punish perpetrators of internal trafficking—including military officers’ recruitment of children and Burmese nationals’ exploitation of children in domestic servitude—but the government failed to provide sufficient evidence to determine the extent of these efforts. There were no reports of investigations or prosecutions of military officials for extracting forced labor from civilians.
Burma prohibits sex and labor trafficking through its 2005 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, which prescribes criminal penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for rape. Forced labor, including the recruitment of children into the army, is a criminal offense under both the new Wards and Village Tracts Administration Act passed in March 2012, and Penal Code Section 374, which could result in imprisonment for up to one year, a fine, or both. In addition, forced labor is prohibited under Section 359 of Burma’s 2008 constitution. The Government of Burma reported investigating 120 cases of trafficking, and prosecuting 215 offenders in 2012, compared with 136 investigations and 231 prosecutions in 2011. As in previous years, the government’s law enforcement efforts focused primarily on the sex trafficking and forced service of Burmese women through forced marriages to Chinese men. The government’s law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking within Burma have been consistently weak, but during the year the government reported investigating 19 suspected cases of internal trafficking. It did not provide additional information about the nature of these cases or whether they resulted in any prosecutions or convictions. Media reports, however, indicate that two offenders were convicted in February 2013 for child sex trafficking within the country, and that court proceedings occurred in at least two cases of child domestic servitude, though the outcome of these cases is unknown. Burmese court proceedings continued to lack transparency and did not accord due process to defendants. Burma’s judiciary lacks sufficient independence; international organizations and NGOs were often unable to verify court statistics provided by the government. Additionally, limited capacity and training of the police coupled with the lack of transparency in the justice system make it uncertain whether all trafficking statistics provided by authorities were indeed for trafficking crimes.
Corruption and lack of accountability remain pervasive in Burma and affect all aspects of society; officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Police can be expected to self-limit investigations when well-connected individuals are alleged to be involved in forced labor or sex trafficking cases. During the reporting period, government officials did not publicly acknowledge that any government personnel were involved in trafficking, and reported that it did not investigate, prosecute, or punish any complicit officials. However, an unverified report to an international organization from the Ministry of Defense suggests that the government disciplined 30 military officers and 154 enlisted personnel for the recruitment of children; though the majority of these received reprimands, three officers and one enlisted soldier were reportedly dismissed, and two officers and seven enlisted personnel were reportedly imprisoned. The power and influence of the Burmese military continued to limit the ability of civilian police and courts to address cases of forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers by the armed forces. Without assent from high-ranking military officers, law enforcement officials generally were not able to investigate or prosecute such cases. In April 2012, Burma’s commander-in-chief reportedly issued an order stating that soldiers accused of committing forced labor would be tried under civilian rather than military courts, though there was no evidence that this policy had been implemented. There were reports that the Ministry of Defense undertook independent efforts to investigate and punish military personnel for their involvement in recruiting children for military service, but the government did not confirm these reports.
During the year, the government continued its cooperation with the ILO and other international partners in reviewing remedies for the long-standing problems of forced labor and child soldier conscription committed by members of the military or civilian administrators. The ILO continued to receive and investigate forced labor complaints; in 2012 it received 274 complaints of military recruitment of children and 68 complaints of forced labor. Through 26 anti-trafficking taskforces (ATTF) operating in key cities and at international border crossings, the police continued to identify and investigate trafficking offenses and arrest suspected trafficking offenders. Two new ATTFs were opened during the current reporting year, and the aggregate number of ATTF officers more than doubled to a total of some 400 at the end of 2012. In January 2013, the government approved a plan to hire an additional 1,000 ATTF officers over the coming year. The Ministry of Home Affairs conducted and partially funded four human trafficking investigation courses, reaching 122 police officers, and three child protection investigation courses, with additional funding provided by foreign donors.
The Burmese government continued modest efforts to provide temporary shelter and facilitate safe passage to Burmese victims repatriated from abroad, but its overall victim protection efforts were inadequate. Department of Social Welfare (DSW) officials in 2012 received 195 repatriated victims, 64 from Thailand, and 131 from China, a decrease from 229 victims repatriated to Burma by foreign authorities in 2011. The police reported identifying an additional 66 victims during the year, and border officials from two newly established international liaison offices identified three victims. The government reported that 100 of the victims repatriated during the year were men victimized in forced labor on Thai fishing boats. Through implementation of its UN-backed action plan on child soldiers, the government identified and released 66 children who had been recruited into its military’s ranks. In January 2013, the Kachin Independence Army released to the ILO eight children who had been captured from the Burmese army and held as prisoners of war.
Police and border officials consistently referred repatriated victims to DSW to receive protective services, but there were no referral mechanisms in place for victims of other forms of trafficking, and working-level cooperation between DSW and the police remained weak. The government has written procedures in place for the identification of victims, but the majority of victims were identified through international repatriations, and front-line officers lacked adequate training to identify possible victims with whom they come in contact within the country. The government was unwilling to allow UN monitors unhindered access to all military installations to inspect for the presence of children. The government implemented aspects of its UN-backed action plan on child soldiers; UNICEF trained military officials on procedures for releasing identified children, and during the year the government established and publicized a dedicated phone line and post office box to receive complaints on underage recruitment. The government continued to operate a national trafficking hotline established during the previous year. Inadequate efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking in thousands of anti-prostitution interventions may have led to sex trafficking victims being treated as law violators. Although the government has discontinued its policy of forcing repatriated victims to stay in a government center before returning to their villages, poorly coordinated returns in practice caused most victims from China to remain at the centers while DSW and civil society partners completed family tracing and arranged for victims’ transportation. The government continued to operate five centers for women and children in need, including trafficking victims, and one facility dedicated to female victims of trafficking. NGOs and foreign donors provided the majority of funding for the limited protective services available to victims. While in government facilities, victims received basic medical care and had access to counseling, which was often substandard. Victims had very limited access to psycho-social counselors. There remained no shelter facilities available to male victims of trafficking. No additional victim screening was performed once repatriated victims reached Burma, and no individualized services were available for victims; the lack of adequate protective measures for returned victims made them vulnerable to being re-trafficked. Longer-term support for trafficking victims was virtually nonexistent. International organizations and NGOs provided reintegration support to demobilized child soldiers. Government authorities reported encouraging victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions but noted that the lack of adequate victim protection and rehabilitation efforts—including economic opportunities—made it difficult to obtain victims’ cooperation in prosecutions. Although victims have the right to file civil suits against their traffickers, the government did not provide access to legal assistance. In 2012, the government disbursed to several victims the equivalent to approximately $2,000 total from the seized property of traffickers. The government did not provide alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, though few, if any, foreign victims were identified during the year.
The Government of Burma increased its efforts to prevent all forms of human trafficking over the last year. The government’s Central Body for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons (CB-TIP), comprising representatives from 26 agencies and some civil society members, continued to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking programs and policies, in line with the five-year national action plan to combat human trafficking. In June 2012, after five years of discussions with the UN, the government signed a UN-backed action plan for the identification, release, and rehabilitation of children in the Burmese military. The plan includes provisions for long-term reintegration of demobilized children, strengthening of recruitment procedures to prevent child recruitment, child-protection training for the military, public awareness raising, and accountability for perpetrators. Though the government released some children and facilitated training on the action plan at military focal points, it has not taken steps to prevent recruitment, such as through strengthening age verification procedures, and UN monitors report the government has not provided access to all its military installations in line with the terms of the plan.
In August 2012, the CB-TIP conducted training sessions for 42 of the country’s 16,589 community-based anti-trafficking watch groups in targeted areas where trafficking is known to be prevalent. The Ministry of Labor continued efforts to prevent forced labor of Burmese citizens at home and abroad; together with Thai officials, it opened five temporary passport-issuing centers in Thailand, staffed by Burmese labor ministry personnel. The centers assisted more than 1.3 million expatriate Burmese workers in obtaining temporary Burmese identity documents, and the labor attaché in the Burmese embassy in Thailand continued providing assistance and advocacy on behalf of the large number of Burmese workers in Thailand. The government could increase its efforts to prevent the forced labor of its citizens abroad by embedding labor attachés in additional overseas diplomatic missions.
The government continued human trafficking awareness campaigns during the reporting period, including in cooperation with a foreign donor, and it launched a national campaign in partnership with the ILO on preventing forced labor and underage recruitment into the armed forces. In an effort to prevent child sex tourism, Burmese authorities reported preventing two Australian nationals from entering the country as a result of information about prior criminal activities provided by the Australian government. The government did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor inside Burma during the reporting period.