The People’s Republic of China (China or PRC) is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Instances of trafficking are pronounced among China’s internal migrant population, estimated to exceed 236 million people. Chinese men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax government supervision. Forced begging by adults and children occurs throughout China. There are reports that traffickers are increasingly subjecting deaf and mute individuals to forced labor. Media reports indicate that children in some work-study programs supported by local governments and schools are forced to work in factories.
State-sponsored forced labor continues to be an area of significant concern in China. “Reform through labor” (RTL) was a systematic form of forced labor that had existed in China for decades. The PRC government reportedly profited from this forced labor, which required many detainees to work, often with no remuneration, for up to four years. By some estimates, there had been at least 320 facilities where detained individuals worked in factories or mines, built roads, and made bricks. According to reports, several RTL facilities closed by the end of the reporting period; other RTL facilities were turned into state-sponsored drug detention or “custody and education” centers. NGOs and media report that detainees in drug detention centers are arbitrarily detained and some continued to be forced into labor. Women arrested for prostitution are detained for up to two years without due process in “custody and education” centers, and some are reportedly subjected to forced labor. These women are reportedly forced to perform manual labor—such as making tires, disposable chopsticks, or dog diapers—in “custody and education” centers throughout China.
Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China; they are typically recruited from rural areas and taken to urban centers. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in the trafficking of Chinese women and girls in China. Victims are recruited with fraudulent employment opportunities and subsequently forced into prostitution. Girls from the Tibet Autonomous Region are reportedly sent to other parts of China and subjected to forced marriage and domestic servitude.
While many instances of trafficking occur within China’s borders, Chinese men, women, and children are also subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in other countries. Chinese men and women are forced to labor in service sectors, such as restaurants and shops, in overseas Chinese communities. Chinese men experience abuse at construction sites and in coal and copper mines in Africa, and face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, and physical abuse. High recruitment fees, sometimes as much as the equivalent of approximately $70,000, compound Chinese migrant workers’ vulnerability to debt bondage. Chinese women and girls are subjected to forced prostitution throughout the world, including in major cities, construction sites, remote mining and logging camps, and areas with high concentrations of Chinese migrant workers. Traffickers recruit girls and young women, often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers and coercion; traffickers subsequently impose large travel fees, confiscate passports, confine, or physically and financially threaten victims to compel their engagement in prostitution.
Women and children from neighboring Asian countries, including Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as well as from Africa, and the Americas, are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in China. During the year, Malagasy women and girls were recruited to work in domestic service in China; some of these women and girls were subsequently subjected to forced labor. Zimbabwean women also reported conditions indicative of labor trafficking in a hostess bar. North Korean women were subjected to forced labor in the agriculture and domestic service sectors. The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons create a skewed sex ratio of 117 boys to 100 girls in China, which may serve to increase the demand for prostitution and for foreign women as brides for Chinese men—both of which may be procured by force or coercion. Women and girls from Burma, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, and North Korea are recruited through marriage brokers and transported to China, where some are subsequently subjected to forced prostitution or forced labor.
The Government of the People’s Republic of China does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the PRC’s National People’s Congress ratified a decision to abolish RTL. Some media and NGOs indicate that the government released detainees from and ceased operations at many RTL camps; others indicate that the government has converted some RTL facilities into different types of detention centers, including state-sponsored drug detention and “custody and education” centers, some of which employ forced labor. The government provided limited information about its investigation, prosecution, and conviction of traffickers; the government’s conflation of trafficking with other crimes made it difficult to accurately assess the government’s law enforcement efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses. Similarly, the government did not provide sufficiently detailed data to ascertain the number of victims it identified or assisted. In 2013, the government arrested a significant number of women in police raids on prostitution rings; it was unclear whether the government screened these women for indicators of trafficking, whether potential trafficking victims were referred to shelters, or whether potential victims were punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficking victims. Chinese authorities continued to forcibly repatriate some North Korean refugees by treating them as illegal economic migrants—despite reports that many North Korean female refugees in China are trafficking victims.
Recommendations for China:
Continue to update the legal framework to further refine the definitions of trafficking-related crimes in accordance with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, including by separating out crimes such as abduction, illegal adoption, and smuggling and criminalizing the facilitation of prostitution involving children under the age of 18; end forced labor in state-sponsored drug detention and “custody and education” centers in China; 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, Chinese victims abroad, and victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers and foreign and local women and children arrested for prostitution; implement procedures to prevent victims from being punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; cease detention, punishment, and forcible repatriation of trafficking victims; expand victim protection services, including comprehensive counseling, medical, reintegration, and other rehabilitative assistance for male and female victims of sex and labor trafficking; provide legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries where they would face hardship or retribution; increase the transparency of government efforts to combat trafficking and provide disaggregated data on efforts to criminally investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking of adults and children; and 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.
The PRC government did not provide detailed data on law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons. While the Chinese criminal code prohibits many forms of trafficking and prescribes harsh penalties, the code does not appear to provide an adequate basis to prosecute all forms of trafficking. Article 240 of China’s criminal code prohibits “abducting and trafficking of women or children,” which is defined as a series of acts (e.g., abduction, kidnapping, purchasing, selling, sending, receiving) for the purpose of selling the women and children, whereas international law defines the purpose of trafficking in persons as exploitation, primarily by forced labor or forced prostitution. The Chinese law appears not to criminalize the act of subjecting women or children to forced labor by fraud or coercion or to forced prostitution unless they were also abducted, kidnapped, purchased, sold, received, or otherwise transferred for the purpose of being sold. In addition, Article 240 does not apply to men. Crimes under Article 240 are punishable by no less than ten years’ or life imprisonment and the death penalty is possible in particularly serious circumstances. Article 358 prohibits organizing prostitution and forced prostitution, which is punishable by five to 10 years’ imprisonment or, with aggravated circumstances, up to life imprisonment. Article 358 is overly broad in prohibiting both forced prostitution and prostitution. Article 359 makes it a crime to lure girls under the age of 14 into prostitution, but does not criminalize facilitating the prostitution of boys under 18 or girls between the ages of 14 and 18, although two provincial supreme courts have found Articles 358 and 359 to extend to men, women, and children, generally. Prescribed penalties under these statutes 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 recruit, transport, or assist in “forcing others to labor.” Prescribed penalties under these statutes are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, including rape. It remains unclear whether, under Chinese law, all children under the age of 18 in prostitution are considered victims of trafficking regardless of whether force is involved.
In 2013, the government reported that police took law enforcement action against 5,000 alleged human trafficking organized crime groups and placed over 40,000 alleged suspects in criminal detention. 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 impossible to ascertain from this data the number of trafficking cases the government investigated and prosecuted that were in accordance with international law. Several media reports indicated the government arrested suspects in cases involving deaf children subjected to forced begging as well as for other potential trafficking offenses. The government provided no additional information about the investigation or prosecution of these cases. The PRC government cooperated with the United States, Vietnam, Taiwan, Burma, Colombia, and Uganda on trafficking investigations, which reportedly led to the arrest and extradition of suspected traffickers and the repatriation of victims. During the reporting period, the government provided inadequate information on training for law enforcement officials, prosecutors, or judges on human trafficking issues. While PRC authorities participated in trainings with other countries and international organizations, it was unclear to what extent the Chinese government provided funding and support for these trainings. The Chinese government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking.
The PRC government’s efforts to protect trafficking victims remained unclear. The government did not report the number of victims it identified or assisted or the services provided to victims. The government’s lack of transparency prevents an accurate assessment of its efforts. The government reported that out of 1,400 shelters serving a wide variety of people, including victims of crime and the homeless, seven were exclusively dedicated to care for victims of human trafficking; victims reportedly also had access to basic services at China’s general-purpose shelter network. In 2013, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) established its third anti-trafficking liaison office with Burma on the countries’ border at the Nansan-Lougai port. The Lhasa Municipal Police Security Bureau reported establishing a hotline to receive information on suspected cases of trafficking and to advise victims on how to access medical and psychological services; the government did not report the number of trafficking cases investigated or victims assisted through this hotline. The Guizhou Provincial Public Security Bureau reported establishing a fund to provide monetary assistance to domestic trafficking victims and their families, but it is unclear if any victims received this benefit. The government reported operating a national hotline to receive information on suspected cases of trafficking and to refer victims to assistance providers, but it remained unclear if any trafficking victims received assistance through this referral mechanism.
Law enforcement and judicial officials continued to expel foreign trafficking victims. In 2013, the government arrested significant numbers of women in prostitution during police raids; some of these women were detained in “custody and education” centers and subjected to forced labor. In 2011, the Ministry of Public Security mandated all women arrested for prostitution be screened for indicators of trafficking; however, it is unclear if these women were in fact screened or, if screened, victims were referred to shelters or other care facilities. Victims of trafficking who faced hardships in their home country received vocational skills training, vocational guidance, and employment services. Chinese law provides victims the right to claim financial compensation by filing civil lawsuits and request criminal prosecution of traffickers; in an unknown number of cases, victims of trafficking were reportedly awarded monetary compensation from traffickers in 2013, in accordance with court rulings or through private settlements. It was unclear whether the government provided temporary or permanent residency visas to foreign trafficking victims as an incentive to cooperate in trafficking investigations or prosecutions.
Chinese authorities continued to forcibly repatriate some North Korean refugees by treating them as illegal economic migrants, despite reports that some 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. The government continued to bar UNHCR access to North Koreans in northeast China; the lack of access to UNHCR assistance and forced repatriation by Chinese authorities left North Koreans vulnerable to traffickers. Chinese authorities sometimes detained and prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and trafficking victims, as well as those who facilitated these illegal border crossings.
The PRC government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. In November 2013, the government modified its birth limitation policy to allow families with one single-child parent to have a second child, a change that may affect future demand for prostitution and for foreign women as brides for Chinese men—both of which may be procured by force or coercion. The government implemented some steps to combat trafficking under its 2013-2020 National Action Plan. Through China’s popular social media platforms, such as Sina Weibo, the MPS used its official microblog to raise awareness of trafficking and receive information from the public regarding suspected trafficking cases. During peak traveling periods, the All-China Women’s Federation and MPS launched national anti-trafficking publicity campaigns at train and bus stations, and on national radio. These campaigns largely targeted migrant workers, a group that is particularly vulnerable to trafficking. MPS officials participated in MTV Exit’s production of a documentary on China’s human trafficking problem, which was aired on the China Central Television (CCTV) network. MPS continued to coordinate the anti-trafficking interagency process, which met semi-annually to preview progress from each ministry with regard to the national action plan and budgetary concerns. MPS made efforts to clarify responsibilities and ensure accountability between the relevant departments charged with anti-trafficking activities by training representatives from the stakeholder ministries and by allocating sufficient funds to enable each department to fulfill its role under the national action plan. The All-China Women’s Federation established new after-school programs that included a curriculum on anti-trafficking; in Yunnan province, these programs reached a significant number of students in more than 50 locations.
Several government policies continued to facilitate human trafficking. “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. The government hukou (household registration) system continued to contribute to the vulnerability of internal migrants to trafficking. Chinese forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad received anti-trafficking training from the Chinese government. The government conducted awareness-raising programs at schools to reduce the demand for commercial sex. 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.