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. Burmese men, women, and children who migrate for work abroad, particularly to Thailand and China, are subjected to conditions of forced labor or sex trafficking in these countries. Poor economic conditions within Burma continue to drive large numbers of Burmese men, women, and children to migrate through both legal and illegal channels for work primarily in East Asia, as well as destinations including the Middle East, South Asia, and the United States. Men are most often subjected to forced labor, often in the fishing, manufacturing, and construction industries abroad. Women and girls are primarily subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude. The large numbers of migrants seeking work in Thailand’s fishing and domestic work sectors do so outside formal channels. Some Burmese men in the Thai fishing industry are subjected to debt bondage, passport confiscation, or false employment offers; some are also subjected to physical abuse and are forced to remain aboard vessels in international waters for years. Burmese women are transported to China and subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude through forced marriages to Chinese men; there were isolated reports of Burmese government officials complicit in this form of trafficking. Networks on both sides of the Burma-Thailand border facilitated migration of undocumented workers, which often leads to their being trafficked upon arrival in Thailand. During the year, there were increasing reports of Rohingya asylum seekers transiting Thailand en route to Malaysia being sold into forced labor on Thai fishing boats, reportedly with the assistance of Thai civilian and military officials. Unidentified trafficking victims are among the large numbers of migrants deported from Thailand each year.
Within Burma, both government officials and private citizens are involved in trafficking. Military personnel and insurgent militia engage in the forced conscription of child soldiers and continue to be the leading perpetrators of other forms of forced labor inside the country, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas. Men and boys are forced through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence to serve in the Burmese army and the armed wings of ethnic minority groups. There is limited data on the total number of children in Burma’s army. Children of the urban poor are at particular risk of conscription. Reports from the UN and former child soldiers indicate that army recruiters target orphans and children alone on the streets and in railway stations; sometimes children are tricked into joining the army and other times they are threatened with jail or physically abused if they do not agree to join.
The Burmese military, and to a lesser extent, civilian officials, used various forms of coercion, including threats of financial and physical harm, to compel victims to provide forced labor. Those living in areas with the highest military presence, including remote border areas and regions of active conflict, are most at risk for forced labor. Military and, to a lesser extent, civilian officials systematically subject civilian men, women, and children to forced labor as porters, manual labor for infrastructure projects, or in state-run agricultural and commercial ventures. International organizations report this practice remains common in conflict regions, particularly in Rakhine State. Since the dissolution of a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army in June 2011 and the eruption of sectarian violence in Rakhine State in June 2012, fighting has displaced an estimated 100,000 Kachin and more than 140,000 Rakhine residents, who are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. In 2013, there was reportedly an incident in which a Rohingya woman was kidnapped in Rakhine State and subjected to sexual slavery on a military installation.
Other forms of trafficking also occur within Burma. There have previously been anecdotal reports that some Burmese victims were forced to labor on palm oil and rubber plantations near Kawthaung. Children are subjected to forced labor in tea shops, home industries, agricultural plantations, and in begging. Exploiters subject children and adults to domestic servitude, and girls and boys to sex trafficking, particularly in urban areas. A small number of foreign pedophiles have attempted to enter Burma with the intent to exploit Burmese children.
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 Ministry of Home Affairs created a specialized division with a dedicated one-year budget in the equivalent of approximately $780,000 to lead anti-trafficking law enforcement activities. Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute cross-border sex trafficking offenses. During the reporting period, the government released 206 boys forcibly recruited into the military’s ranks. Despite these measures, the government failed to demonstrate overall increasing efforts to combat trafficking from the previous year. Forced labor of civilians and the forced recruitment of child soldiers by military officials remained serious problems that occurred, often with impunity. The military did not grant unfettered UN access to military bases to inspect for the presence of children during the year. The government undertook few efforts to address trafficking that occurred wholly within Burma, and victim protection efforts remained inadequate. Therefore, Burma is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a third consecutive year. Burma was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan.
Recommendations for Burma:
Vigorously prosecute and punish offenders of both sex and labor trafficking, including trafficking occurring within Burma; increase efforts to investigate and sanction, including through criminal prosecution, government and military perpetrators of internal trafficking offenses, including child soldier recruitment and forced labor; continue to implement the terms of the ILO action plan for the elimination of forced labor offenses perpetrated by government employees, particularly military personnel; take necessary action to authorize the anti-trafficking taskforce (ATTF) police to proactively initiate, investigate, and support prosecution of transnational and internal trafficking cases; develop and maintain a transparent database to report civil or military prosecutions of government officials for trafficking crimes, including forced labor and child conscription; 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 any and all recruitment centers, training centers, and military bases to support the identification, demobilization, and rehabilitation of child soldiers; take steps to 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 proactive victim identification and protection efforts, including victim shelters, provision of services for male victims, and reintegration support for former child soldiers; develop and implement formal victim identification and referral procedures, including for victims identified within the country; consider appointing a case manager to facilitate victims’ involvement in criminal proceedings and to maintain a victim-centered approach; and increase efforts to identify and respond to sex trafficking occurring within the country.
The Government of Burma continued law enforcement efforts to address cross-border sex trafficking, but it did not make progress in holding significant numbers of traffickers, including public officials, criminally accountable for trafficking within the country. 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; violations can 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. In June 2013, the government formed a committee to begin drafting the necessary regulations for the 2005 law; although these regulations were not completed, officials continued to use the law to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders.
The Government of Burma reported investigating 100 cases of trafficking, and prosecuting and convicting 183 offenders in 2013, compared with 120 investigations and 215 prosecutions and convictions in 2012. As in previous years, the government’s law enforcement efforts focused primarily on the sex trafficking or forced service of Burmese women through forced marriages to Chinese men, with the majority of cases pursued by the ATTF in Muse. The government reported investigating 22 suspected cases of internal trafficking, though it did not provide additional information about the nature of these cases or whether they resulted in any prosecutions or convictions. Burmese court proceedings continued to lack transparency and did not accord due process to defendants. Burma’s judiciary lacked 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, made it unclear whether all trafficking statistics provided by authorities were indeed for trafficking crimes.
In April 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs created a specialized Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division (ATIPD), with an independent annual budget in the equivalent of approximately $780,000, with three sub-divisional offices to oversee the 18 ATTFs operating in key cities and at international border crossings and three newly created child protection taskforces. ATTF officers did not have the authority to serve as primary case investigators; they were required to transfer investigations to general police investigators, who lacked specialized anti-trafficking knowledge, which impeded the success of law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. The government opened two additional border liaison offices staffed by police and immigration officials, bringing the total to six such offices operated to address crimes such as human trafficking on Burma’s borders with China and Thailand. Officials reported joint investigations of six cases with Thai law enforcement officials and 16 cases with Chinese officials during the year. Through the government’s Central Body for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons (CB-TIP), with funding provided by foreign donors, the government conducted child protection investigation trainings throughout the year for police and other local officials. 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 2013, it received 157 complaints of military and police recruitment of children and 73 complaints of other forms of forced labor.
Corruption and lack of accountability remained pervasive in Burma and limited the enforcement of human trafficking laws. Police limited investigations when well-connected individuals were alleged to be involved, including in forced labor or sex trafficking cases. The government reported one prosecution of a public official for involvement in trafficking, without providing further details. The ILO reported it received information on two cases in which the wives of military officials were alleged to have facilitated the sex trafficking of women and girls to China; no action was taken to prosecute the suspected offenders. The government did not provide comprehensive statistics on the number of military officials it investigated, prosecuted, or punished for trafficking or trafficking-related crimes, but 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; an unverified report to an international organization indicated the military disciplined one officer and 26 enlisted personnel for the recruitment of children. The majority of those disciplined received reprimands, though an unknown number of enlisted soldiers 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 forced recruitment of child soldiers by the armed forces; there was no evidence that any soldiers accused of trafficking crimes were prosecuted in civilian courts. Without assent from high-ranking military officers, law enforcement officials generally were not able to investigate or prosecute such cases. There were no reports of investigations or prosecutions of military officials for extracting forced labor from civilians, though this practice continued to occur.
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 2013 received 214 repatriated victims—110 from Thailand, and 104 from China. This represented an increase from 195 victims repatriated to Burma by foreign authorities in 2012. The government had written procedures in place for the identification of victims, but the majority of victims were identified through international repatriations. The government reported identifying four additional cases through its national trafficking hotline, and police and border officials reported identifying an additional 47 cases during the year. Officials in northern Burma continued to have some success in identifying and rescuing suspected victims en route to China for forced marriages likely to result in sex or labor exploitation, but front-line officers throughout the country generally lacked adequate training to identify potential victims with whom they came in contact in Burma. The government did not make efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking among individuals deported from neighboring countries or returning migrant workers filing complaints regarding employment abroad—groups likely to include unidentified trafficking victims. During the reporting period, the government released 206 children and young people who had been recruited into the military as children through implementation of its UN-backed action plan on child soldiers and the ILO complaints mechanism.
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. Children who fled military service continued to face physical abuse or arrest and imprisonment on charges of desertion if they were re-apprehended. Beginning in June 2013, the government made progress in granting UN monitors access to some battalion level military installations to inspect for the presence of children, but it failed to provide unhindered access for UN monitors to all military installations. In some cases, the government refused to provide access to requested sites and in other cases it limited inspectors’ access to non-operational units such as recruitment centers and training schools. The DSW began providing limited reintegration support to demobilized child soldiers, though overall support to demobilized children was inadequate. The government took steps to improve the protection of child victims during investigations; it developed three child protection taskforces within the new ATIPD police structure and began providing training to police on the use of designated interview rooms for child victims. Such rooms were not, however, widely available to police during the year.
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, though they had limited access to counseling. No shelters specifically dedicated to male victims of trafficking existed, though the government designated two new facilities to serve male victims in addition to female victims; these facilities did not become operational during the year. No individualized services were available for victims and longer-term support was limited to vocational training for women in major city centers and in border areas; the lack of adequate protective measures for victims made them vulnerable to being re-trafficked.
Government authorities reported encouraging victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions, but noted that disincentives, such as the lengthy criminal justice process, made it difficult to obtain victims’ cooperation in prosecutions. Furthermore, a cumbersome investigation process required victims to give their statements multiple times to different officials, increasing the burden on victims who chose to participate. The government made efforts to include victims’ perspectives in training sessions with police and during government meetings to better inform the development of policies and procedures that prioritize the needs of victims. Inadequate efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking in thousands of anti-prostitution interventions may have led to sex trafficking victims being treated as criminals. Although victims had the right to file civil suits against their traffickers, none did so during the reporting period. The government did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The Government of Burma continued efforts to prevent human trafficking. The 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. The government implemented aspects of its UN-backed action plan on the identification, release, and rehabilitation of children in the Burmese army, and in March 2014, it officially extended the plan, which had expired in December 2013. The government and the UN jointly developed and implemented a public awareness campaign utilizing billboards, radio, television, and print media aimed at preventing the recruitment of children into the military. The government did not make efforts to strengthen age verification procedures for military recruits, and the Burmese military’s high recruitment goals, which could not be met through voluntary enlistments, continued to make children vulnerable to forced conscription. The government continued to deny citizenship to an estimated 800,000 men, women, and children in Burma, the majority of whom are ethnic Rohingya living in Rakhine State; the lack of legal status and access to identification documents significantly increased this population’s vulnerability to trafficking in neighboring countries.
In September and October 2013, the CB-TIP conducted training sessions for 700 members of the country’s community-based anti-trafficking watch groups in targeted areas where trafficking is known to be prevalent, and more than 3,000 public officials were trained on human trafficking during the year. The CB-TIP held public awareness events and campaigns in 76 towns throughout the country, and state and regional anti-trafficking committees held more than 3,500 additional awareness events. The Ministry of Labor continued efforts to prevent forced labor of Burmese citizens at home and abroad; together with Thai officials, it operated five temporary passport-issuing centers in Thailand, staffed by Burmese labor ministry personnel. The centers assisted 200,000 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. In September 2013, the government appointed a labor attaché to its embassy in Kuala Lumpur to assist Burmese workers in Malaysia. In November 2013, authorities deported to China the manager of an agency alleged to have facilitated the trafficking of Burmese women into exploitative marriages in China; no criminal investigations or prosecutions for trafficking were reported in this case. In an effort to prevent child sex tourism, Burmese authorities reported preventing six foreign nationals (three British, one Canadian, one American, and one German) from entering the country as a result of information about prior criminal activities. The government did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor inside Burma during the reporting period.