Yemen is a country of origin and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Some Yemeni children, mostly boys, migrate to the Yemeni cities of Aden and Sanaa, or travel across the northern border to Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, to Oman where they are subjected to forced labor in domestic service, small shops, or as beggars. Some of these children are forced into prostitution by traffickers, border patrols, other security officials, and their employers once they arrive in Saudi Arabia; some children are forced to smuggle drugs to Saudi Arabia. Some families supportive of ethnic Houthi rebels, including those residing in Sanaa and other locations outside Houthi control, send their children to Saada to be trained by the Houthis in the use of arms to serve in Houthi militias. A Saudi study conducted in 2011 reported that most beggars in Saudi Arabia are Yemenis between the ages of 16 and 25. The Yemeni government and international NGOs estimate that there are approximately 935,000 child laborers under the age of 15 in Yemen, some of whom are subjected to conditions of forced labor. In addition, some sources report that the practice of chattel slavery still exists in Yemen; while no official statistics exist detailing this practice, unconfirmed sources report that there could be 300 to 500 men, women, and children sold or inherited as slaves in Yemen, including in the Al-Zohrah district of Al-Hudaydah Governorate, west of Sanaa, and the Kuaidinah and Khairan Al-Muharraq districts of the Hajjah Governorate, north of the capital.
Yemen is also a source country for girls subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in Saudi Arabia. Girls as young as 15 years old are exploited for commercial sex in hotels and clubs in the governorates of Sanaa, Aden, and Taiz. The majority of child sex tourists in Yemen are from Saudi Arabia, with a smaller number possibly originating from other Gulf nations. Yemeni girls who marry Saudi tourists often do not realize the temporary and exploitative nature of these agreements; some are subjected to sex trafficking or abandoned on the streets of Saudi Arabia. Yemen is a transit and destination country for women and children from the Horn of Africa. An international organization estimated that 107,000 migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa—primarily Ethiopia and, to a lesser extent, Somalia and Eritrea—reached Yemen in 2012, which was double that reported in 2010. According to UNHCR, 74 percent of the migrants reportedly crossed the Red Sea via Obock, Djibouti. Ethiopian and Somali women and children travel voluntarily to Yemen with the hope of working in other Gulf countries, but some are subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude in Yemen. Others migrate based on fraudulent offers of employment as domestic servants in Yemen, but upon arrival are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor. Some female Somali refugees are forced into prostitution in Aden and Lahj governorates, and Yemeni and Saudi gangs traffic African children to Saudi Arabia. Smugglers capitalize on the instability in the Horn of Africa to subject Africans to forced labor and prostitution in Yemen. Some refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa that voluntarily transit Yemen en route to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are abandoned in Yemen and abused by traffickers; some were reportedly forced to embark boats headed to Yemen.
Despite a 1991 law requiring that members of the armed forces be at least 18 years of age, credible reports indicated that many children under 18 joined the official government armed forces—as well as tribal militias and militias of Houthi rebels—during the country-wide civil unrest in 2011. Local NGOs also report that many children, some as young as 11, remain in tribal and Houthi militias. However, the number of child soldiers in the armed forces reportedly declined in 2012.
The Government of Yemen does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Yemen was in the midst of a two-year Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)-brokered political transition, which included security sector reform. Throughout 2012, Yemen faced prolonged political, economic, and security challenges, including weak government institutions, widespread corruption, and poor law enforcement capabilities, which severely impeded the government’s modest anti-trafficking efforts. The government did not institute formal procedures to identify and protect victims of trafficking or investigate or prosecute government officials complicit in trafficking-related crimes. The government did not make efforts to address trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation nor to implement anti-trafficking awareness campaigns; however, it took some steps to prevent the recruitment of children in the armed forces.
Recommendations for Yemen: Significantly increase law enforcement efforts against trafficking in persons, including sex and labor trafficking of women, men, and children; investigate and prosecute government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses; take measures to investigate and eradicate the practice of chattel slavery in Yemen, including by enforcing the prohibition against slavery, including against slave “owners;” expand victim protection services, including rehabilitation of victims of forced prostitution; make greater efforts to stop the forcible recruitment of child soldiers and provide protection and rehabilitation services to demobilized children; institute a formal victim identification mechanism to identify and refer trafficking victims to protection services; implement educational and public awareness campaigns on trafficking to include information on the sex trafficking of children and adults; adopt and dedicate resources to a national plan of action to combat trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government made no discernible progress in enforcing laws against human trafficking during the reporting period. Article 248 of Yemen’s penal code prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, or gives as a present, or deals in human beings; and anyone who brings into the country or exports from it a human being with the intent of taking advantage of him.” Although this statute’s prescribed penalty is commensurate with that prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape, its narrow focus on transactions and movement means that many forms of forced labor and forced prostitution are not criminalized. Article 161 of the Child Rights Law specifically criminalizes the prostitution of children. Although the government reported that it convicted and sentenced 17 trafficking offenders in 2012, the details of these cases were unknown. The government did not report efforts to investigate or punish government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses despite allegations that local government and security officials willfully ignored trafficking crimes taking place in their areas of responsibility. The government made no known efforts to investigate or punish the practice of chattel slavery. The Ministry of Interior operated family protection units that could be used to investigate trafficking offenses; however, none of the unit’s personnel received specialized anti-trafficking training.
The government’s efforts to protect victims were negligible during the reporting period. The government continued to lack formal victim identification procedures to proactively identify and assist victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as women arrested for prostitution or individuals detained for illegal immigration. As a result, the government did not ensure that victims of trafficking were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Though an international organization identified over 2,000 trafficking victims in 2012, the government did not report how many trafficking victims it identified—if any—in this reporting period. The government did not operate shelters for trafficking victims, nor did it provide protective services to adult victims of either forced prostitution or forced labor. The government operated two juvenile detention centers in Sanaa and Haradh, which were not dedicated to providing adequate protective services to child trafficking victims. The government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers. The government did not provide assistance to its nationals who were repatriated as victims of trafficking. While the government acknowledged the use of child soldiers, it was unclear how the government made efforts to remove child soldiers from the military and provide them with protective or rehabilitation services.
The government made no efforts generally to prevent trafficking during the reporting period; however, it took some steps to address the recruitment of children in the armed forces. The government did not fund anti-trafficking public awareness or education campaigns, and it made no progress implementing its 2008 national action plan on trafficking. It was not clear whether the government’s inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee met during the year. Moreover, the government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or address the problem of child sex tourism. The government did not report efforts to enforce its 2009 decree aimed at preventing trafficking through “temporary marriages.” The government did not develop a universal birth registration system and many children, especially in rural areas, were never registered or registered only after several years, depriving them of a key identity document and consequently increasing their vulnerability to trafficking.
The government made efforts to eliminate the recruitment and use of child soldiers in the military as part of the government’s broader measures to reform and restructure the military and security forces. In November 2012, the senior military command issued new orders to strictly enforce its policy against the recruitment of children into the armed forces; it also publicized this policy at military installations and in major cities. The government also created an inter-ministerial taskforce to address the issue of child soldiers. The peacekeeping unit in the Yemeni armed forces received regular pre-deployment training on severe forms of human trafficking. Yemen is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.