China (Tier 3*) is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Women and children from neighboring Asian countries, including Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Singapore, Mongolia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as from Russia, Europe, Africa, and the Americas, are reportedly trafficked to China for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. While the majority of trafficking occurs within China’s borders, there are reports that Chinese men, women, and children may be subjected to conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor in numerous other countries. Low- and medium-skilled Chinese workers migrate voluntarily to other countries for jobs in coal mines, beauty parlors, construction, and residences, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as withholding of passports and other restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, physical or sexual abuse, and threats. High recruitment fees, sometimes as much as the equivalent of approximately $70,000, compound Chinese migrants’ vulnerability to debt bondage.
Trafficking is pronounced among China’s internal migrant population, estimated to exceed 236 million. Forced labor remains a problem, including in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax labor supervision. Forced labor, including forced begging by adults and children, took place throughout China in 2012. Some evidence of child labor has been reported by media outlets, but the government has publicized only limited data on the subject. During the reporting period, some children in “work-study programs” supported by local governments were forced to work in farms and factories. In 2012, instances of schools forcing students to work in factories were reported. In November 2012, police rescued 11 mentally disabled men from a car wash in Tianjin, where the men had been beaten and not paid. Girls from the Tibet Autonomous Region are reportedly trafficked to other parts of China for domestic servitude and forced marriage.
State-sponsored forced labor is part of a systematic form of repression known as “re-education through labor.” The government reportedly profits from this forced labor, and many prisoners and detainees in at least 320 of these facilities were required to work, often with no remuneration. The prisoners were sometimes beaten for failing to complete work quotas. NGO reports state that forced labor is also a problem in government drug detention centers. Chinese authorities continue to detain and forcibly deport North Korean trafficking victims, who may face severe punishment, including death, upon their return to the DPRK for crimes that were sometimes a direct result of being trafficked.
Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China; they are often recruited from rural areas and transported to urban centers. China is also a destination for women and girls, largely from neighboring countries, who are sometimes subjected to forced marriage and forced prostitution upon arrival. Well-organized international criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in both the outbound trafficking of Chinese women and girls and the inbound trafficking of foreign women and girls into China. Media sources have reported on the prevalence of underage girls in the sex trade in cities throughout China. In July 2012, eight girls under the age of 14 were kidnapped and forced into prostitution. Local government officials and businessmen were among the five people arrested for the girls’ commercial sexual exploitation.
The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons, create a skewed sex ratio of 118 boys to 100 girls in China, which served as a key source of demand for the trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution. Women from Burma, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Mongolia are transported to China after being recruited through marriages brokers or fraudulent employment offers, where they are subsequently subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor. Chinese men and women are subjected to forced labor in many countries around the world. There have been reports of forced labor in service sectors, such as restaurants and shops, in overseas Chinese communities. A study in the Netherlands revealed that Chinese men were found at marijuana cultivation sites, while women were forced to work in beauty salons and offer sexual services. In addition, there have been reports of Chinese men abused in coal and copper mines in Africa.
China remains a significant source of girls and women subjected to forced prostitution throughout the world. During the year, Chinese sex trafficking victims were reported on all of the inhabited continents. Traffickers recruited girls and young women, often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers, imposition of large travel fees, and threats of physical or financial harm, to obtain and maintain their service in prostitution. Locations of sex trafficking of Chinese women and girls abroad vary widely, and sometimes are collocated with concentrations of Chinese migrant workers in factories, and mining and logging camps.
The Government of the People’s Republic of China does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, and has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the last nine consecutive years. In the 2011 and 2012 TIP Reports, China was granted consecutive waivers from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 on the basis of a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) authorizes a maximum of two consecutive waivers; a waiver is no longer available to China, which is therefore deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3.
During the reporting period, the Chinese government released a new national plan of action that sets forth ways in which the government will increase its efforts in victim protection and cooperation with international organizations. The government also demonstrated increased cooperation with foreign governments in extraditing alleged traffickers and repatriating victims. Through the government’s use of social media, national public awareness of human trafficking has increased over previous years. However, despite these modest signs of interest in anti-trafficking reforms, the Chinese government did not demonstrate significant efforts to comprehensively prohibit and punish all forms of trafficking and to prosecute traffickers. The government continued to perpetuate human trafficking in at least 320 state-run institutions--through its "re-education through labor" camps--while helping victims of human trafficking in only seven. The government also did not report providing comprehensive victim protection services to domestic or foreign, male or female victims of trafficking. In addition, as the government provides little information about arrests or prosecutions, it is difficult to determine if the government takes adequate steps to punish government officials complicit in trafficking.
Recommendations for China: Continue to update the legal framework to further refine the definitions of trafficking-related crimes per the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, separating out crimes such as abduction, illegal adoption, and smuggling; provide more disaggregated data on efforts to criminally investigate and prosecute sex trafficking of adults and children; provide data on the number of criminal investigations and prosecutions of cases identified as involving forced labor, including of recruiters and employers who facilitate forced labor and debt bondage, both within China and abroad; investigate, prosecute, and impose prison sentences on government officials who facilitate or are complicit in trafficking; expand efforts to institute proactive, formal procedures to systematically identify victims of trafficking, including labor trafficking victims and Chinese victims trafficked abroad, and among vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and foreign and local women and children arrested for prostitution, to ensure that they are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; cease detention, punishment, and forcible repatriation of North Korean trafficking victims; continue to expand victim protection services, including comprehensive counseling, medical, reintegration, and other rehabilitative assistance for male and female victims of sex and labor trafficking; end the “re-education through labor” system; continue to increase the transparency of government efforts to combat trafficking; and, provide legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face hardship or retribution.
The government of China demonstrated moderate law enforcement efforts during this reporting year. Although the government claims otherwise, Chinese law remains inadequate to combat all forms of trafficking. Article 240 of China’s criminal code prohibits “abducting and trafficking of women or children,” but does not define these concepts. Article 358 prohibits forced prostitution, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment. Prescribed penalties under these statutes range from five years’ imprisonment to death sentences, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, including rape. Article 244 of the Chinese Criminal Code prohibits “forcing workers to labor,” punishable by three to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine, and expands culpability to those who also recruit, transport, or assist in “forcing others to labor.” However, it remains unclear whether, under Chinese law, children under the age of 18 in prostitution are considered victims of trafficking regardless of whether force is involved.
In addition, it remains unclear whether these laws have prohibited the use of common non-physical forms of coercion, such as threats of financial or reputational harm, or whether acts such as recruiting, providing, or obtaining persons for compelled prostitution are covered. While trafficking crimes could perhaps be prosecuted under general statutes related to fraud and deprivation of liberty, authorities did not report using these specific provisions to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders. The government reported law enforcement statistics that included incarceration of sex and labor trafficking offenders involving women and children victims. The government reported that police cracked down on 10,000 alleged human trafficking organized crime groups and placed over 80,000 alleged suspects in criminal detention. However, due to the government’s continued conflation of human smuggling, child abduction, and fraudulent adoptions with trafficking offenses and its lack of judicial due process and transparency, it is difficult to ascertain how many trafficking cases the government actually investigated and prosecuted during the reporting period. It therefore was difficult to accurately assess Chinese anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, including the government’s statistics on trafficking-related investigations, prosecutions, and convictions. The government, however, reported cooperation with the governments of the United States, Vietnam, Colombia, Angola, the Philippines, Uganda, Russia, and Malaysia on trafficking investigations during the reporting period, which led to the arrest and extradition of suspected traffickers. For example, the Philippines extradited a human trafficker to China. The Ministry of Public Security also collaborated with Angolan police on a case resulting in the deportation from Angola of 37 Chinese nationals suspected of human trafficking. The cases with Vietnam, Colombia, and Uganda have led to the repatriation of both suspected trafficking offenders. A case involving the suspected trafficking of Chinese women to the United States for forced prostitution remains under investigation.
There were multiple media reports of anti-trafficking law enforcement activities. For example, Chinese authorities arrested five offenders for trafficking 200 Burmese victims to metal and paper factories in Guangdong province in December 2012. The fate of these traffickers or victims, however, remains unclear because the government did not release this information. A man who confined six female victims in his basement and subjected them to forced prostitution received the death penalty, while three female victims were prosecuted for the murder of two other victims. The Supreme People’s Court holds both semi-annual and annual training courses on human trafficking and anti-trafficking in provinces in China where there is a higher prevalence of human trafficking. In July 2012, an anti-trafficking training course was held in Yunnan province attended by over 300 judges.
The Government of China’s efforts to protect trafficked victims remained inadequate during the reporting period. During the reporting period, the Chinese government claimed that out of the 1,400 shelters serving a wide variety of people, including victims of crime and the homeless, five were dedicated to care for victims of human trafficking; victims also had access to basic services at China’s general-purpose shelter network. The government also reported that two additional shelters were established in Yunnan and Guangxi provinces to protect and assist foreign trafficking victims. However, the government did not report the number of victims assisted or the services provided to the victims. The government’s lack of transparency prevents an accurate assessment of its efforts; it has never provided any data on the number of victims it has identified or assisted. Law enforcement and judicial officials reported they continued to punish forced prostitution victims and expel foreign victims in violation of immigration law. The Chinese government reported it had four nationwide hotlines to report suspected cases of trafficking or access referral services for victims.
Chinese law also provides human trafficking victims the right to claim financial compensation by filing civil lawsuits and request criminal prosecution of traffickers. Chinese authorities continued to forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees. The government continued to treat North Koreans found in China as illegal economic migrants, despite credible independent reporting that many North Korean female refugees in China are trafficking victims. The government detained and deported such refugees to North Korea, where they may face severe punishment, even death, including in North Korean forced labor camps. The Chinese government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. Chinese authorities sometimes prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and trafficking victims, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings. The government continued to bar UNHCR access to North Koreans in northeast China. The lack of access to UNHCR assistance and the issue of forced repatriation by Chinese authorities leave North Koreans vulnerable to human traffickers.
The Government of China increased its efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The government in early 2013 released a new eight-year national plan of action, which includes measures to improve interagency and other internal coordination among anti-trafficking stakeholders and improve victim protection. The new plan reaffirms the importance of international cooperation in handling trafficking cases but also focuses on the importance of strengthening domestic anti-trafficking efforts. The plan also shifts its previous focus away from women and children as the only victims of trafficking.
Chinese domestic media carried public service announcements from the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) highlighting the serious problem posed by human trafficking and calling for “every citizen to be mobilized” to report trafficking crimes. During the reporting period, popular social media platforms, such as Weibo micro blogs, permitted the government to raise awareness and receive information from the public to report suspected trafficking cases. The MPS also coordinated the anti-trafficking interagency process, which met semi-annually to review progress from each ministry with regard to the national action plan and budgetary concerns.
The government did not address the effects its birth limitation policy had in creating a gender imbalance and fueling trafficking, particularly through bride trafficking and forced marriage. “Punishment clauses” within the Labor Contract Law allowed Chinese companies to impose steep fines or require substantial deposits from Chinese workers, rendering them vulnerable to forced labor. Another important contributing factor to the problem of human trafficking continues to be the government hukou (household registration) system, which contributes to the vulnerability of internal migrants to trafficking. Individuals from a rural area who migrate for work to an urban area usually cannot register and live there legally. Unregistered urban residents are therefore vulnerable to abusive employers who can use threats of arrest as a form of coercion.
Chinese forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad receive no anti-trafficking training from the Chinese government independent of the training provided by the UN prior to deployment. The government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Despite reports that Chinese nationals engaged in child sex tourism, the government made no efforts to prevent Chinese citizens from engaging in child sex tourism while abroad during the reporting period.
* Auto downgrade from Tier 2 Watch List