Oman is a destination and transit country for men and women, primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia, who are sometimes subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. Most migrants travel willingly and legally to Oman with the expectation of employment in domestic service or as low-skilled workers in the country’s construction, agriculture, or service sectors. Some subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as the withholding of passports and other restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Government sources note that runaway domestic workers are also susceptible to forced prostitution. Unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies and their sub-agents in migrants’ original communities in South Asia, as well as labor brokers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Iran, may deceive workers into accepting work that constitutes forced labor. Many of these agencies provide false contracts for employment either with fictitious employers or fictitious wages, and charge workers high recruitment fees (often in an amount exceeding the equivalent of approximately $1,000) at usurious rates of interest, leaving workers vulnerable to trafficking.
Oman is also a destination and transit country for women from China, India, Morocco, Eastern Europe, Uganda, Kenya, and parts of South Asia who may be forced into commercial sexual exploitation, generally by nationals of their own countries. The majority of women identified as sex trafficking victims in the reporting period were of Asian descent, primarily from Indonesia and India, as well as North Africa; identified victims in the previous year included women from countries in East Africa, namely Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi. Women working in Oman as domestic workers from Ethiopia, Nepal, and Vietnam—countries without diplomatic presence in Oman—are especially vulnerable to domestic servitude. Male Pakistani laborers and other workers from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and East Asia transit Oman en route to the UAE; some of these migrant workers are exploited in situations of forced labor upon reaching their destination.
The Government of Oman does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making efforts to do so. Over the last year, the government prosecuted and convicted sex trafficking offenders, but it did not investigate or prosecute any suspected labor trafficking offenders. The government continued to assist victims of trafficking at a government-run shelter for trafficking victims, though the facility remained underused. The government identified and referred two victims to the shelter, which was a significant decrease from the number of victims identified during the previous reporting period. Omani authorities continued to lack formal procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among those detained for immigration violations or prostitution charges. As a result, the government may not have adequately identified victims of forced labor or sex trafficking nor punished the trafficking offenders.
Recommendations for Oman: Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and sentence convicted traffickers to imprisonment; make greater efforts to investigate and prosecute forced labor offenses, including those perpetrated by recruitment agents and employers; ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; institute formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among all vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution; refer all suspected victims of trafficking, including victims of both forced labor and forced prostitution, to a shelter, regardless of whether there is a corresponding prosecution of an alleged offender; as a measure to prevent labor trafficking, enact and enforce strict penalties for employers who withhold their employees’ passports; increase and enforce legal protections for domestic workers, including coverage under Oman’s labor laws; continue training government officials in all relevant departments to recognize and respond appropriately to human trafficking crimes; and increase public awareness campaigns or other prevention programs to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex acts.
The Government of Oman made no discernible progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period as the number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of trafficking offenders significantly decreased. Through its Royal Decree No. 126/2008, also known as the Law Combating Trafficking in Persons, issued in 2008, the Omani government prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of three to 15 years’ imprisonment, in addition to financial penalties, for trafficking crimes. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. A Ministry of Manpower circular (No. 2/2006) prohibits employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports, a practice widespread among employers in Oman, including government officials, that is known to contribute to forced labor. The circular does not specify penalties for noncompliance; the government did not report any investigations or other actions using this circular during the reporting period. The government reported investigating five cases of sex trafficking. The government reported prosecuting 15 sex trafficking offenders and convicted two sex trafficking offenders in this reporting period; however, it failed to prosecute or convict any forced labor offenders. As part of these court cases, however, the government also prosecuted three trafficking victims and convicted two of them for immigration offenses. Also, the government often failed to investigate reported abuses of domestic workers due, in part, to their status outside the Omani labor law. The government did not report investigating or punishing government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. All Royal Oman police cadets received training on how to recognize trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The National Committee for Combating Human Trafficking also conducted an anti-trafficking training in May 2012 for prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials.
The government’s efforts to identify and protect victims of trafficking remained weak during the reporting period. The government continued to lack formal procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among all vulnerable groups, including migrants detained for immigration violations and women in prostitution. During the reporting period, the Public Prosecution—the only entity that can refer victims to the government shelter and only if it determines the case against the alleged offender will go to trial—identified and referred only two identified victims of sex trafficking to the shelter. This is a significant decrease from the 14 victims the Public Prosecution referred last year. As in previous years, the government identified and referred no labor trafficking or child trafficking victims to the government care facility for assistance. The Royal Oman Police continued to operate and fund a permanent shelter that could accommodate up to 50 men, women, and children who were victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. Victims in this shelter could not leave the premises unchaperoned, but they could reportedly readily access shelter employees to accompany them offsite. The shelter is able to provide social, psychological, legal, and medical services at no cost to victims. The shelter remained underused due to the strict government entry requirements; most trafficking victims in Oman sought care in shelters run by the embassies of their home countries.
Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification and protection procedures, the government failed to ensure that migrant workers subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. In this reporting period, three identified victims of sex trafficking were prosecuted and two were convicted for acts committed as a result of being trafficked, including having outdated residency permits; in at least one case, a trafficker and a trafficking victim were both charged in the same case. Furthermore, the government failed to provide protection services to these identified victims. In years prior to this reporting period, the government claimed to have encouraged suspected foreign trafficking victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions regarding their cases, though it did not provide foreign victims with a legal alternative to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship. The government also did not provide information on the number of victims who assisted in trafficking investigations or prosecutions in this reporting period. Victims were permitted to stay in Oman on a case-by-case basis but were not permitted to work while awaiting court proceedings.
The government sustained modest efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. The government published brochures in numerous languages, highlighting the rights and services to which workers are legally entitled; however, it did not conduct an anti-trafficking public awareness campaign during this reporting period. The government did not report conducting investigations or imposing fines under Royal Decree 113/2011, which requires employers to pay all wages by electronic deposit to the employee’s local bank account. The Ministry of Manpower implemented an annual inspection plan in 2012 under which the ministry undertook field visits to 1,913 facilities to ensure that businesses and employers adhered to the Omani labor law and to investigate complaints of labor violations; the government did not report if these visits resulted in the identification of forced labor victims. The government required that all employers post labor law regulations in the languages of their workers in prominent locations at worksites. There were no reported efforts by the government to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor in Oman.