China

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 3

CHINA: Tier 3

The Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore China remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including by cooperating with international authorities to address forced and fraudulent marriages in China—a key trafficking vulnerability for foreign women and girls; seeking criminal accountability for officials complicit in commercial sex crimes that may have included sex trafficking; and continuing trainings for officials on victim identification and assistance, in conjunction with international organizations. However, state-sponsored forced labor continued to be an area of concern. Unlike in prior years, the government did not report identifying any trafficking victims or referring them to protective services. Authorities detained women arrested on suspicion of prostitution—sometimes for months—and often forcibly returned foreign victims to their trafficking circumstances after they escaped and reported their abuses. Authorities attempted to extradite Chinese and Taiwan individuals abroad—some of whom were reportedly victims of forced labor—and charge them as criminals.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CHINA

End forced labor in government facilities and by government officials outside of the penal process; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and impose prison sentences on perpetrators of forced labor and sex trafficking, including government officials who facilitate or are complicit in trafficking; update the legal framework to fully criminalize all forms of trafficking, including the facilitation of prostitution involving children younger than the age of 18; expand efforts to institute proactive, formal procedures to systematically identify trafficking victims throughout the country—including labor trafficking victims, Chinese victims returning from abroad, and victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, foreign women, and Chinese women and children arrested for prostitution—and train front-line officers on their implementation; cease penalization of victims for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, including by immediately screening individuals suspected of prostitution offenses for sex trafficking indicators and referring identified victims to protection services; ensure authorities do not subject trafficking victims to detention, punishment, or forcible repatriation; expand victim protection services, including comprehensive counseling and 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, particularly North Korea; and increase the transparency of government efforts to combat trafficking and provide disaggregated data on investigations and prosecutions, victim identification, and service provision, including by continuing to share relevant data with international partners.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained insufficient law enforcement efforts. It continued to report statistics for crimes outside the definition of human trafficking according to international law, making it difficult to assess progress. Not all statistics were captured by the central government. The criminal code criminalized some forms of sex and labor trafficking. Article 240 of the criminal code criminalized “abducting and trafficking of women or children,” which it defined as a series of acts (e.g., abduction, kidnapping, purchasing, selling, sending, receiving) for the purpose of selling women and children; however, it did not link these acts to a purpose of exploitation as defined in international law. A 2016 opinion from the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) interpreting article 240, et seq. established that the selling and buying of persons, along with trafficking, was a banned offense “for any reason […] for whatever purpose according to the law.” Crimes under article 240 were punishable by at least 10 years imprisonment. Article 241 criminalized the purchase of women or children; like article 240, it did not require that the purchase be done for the purpose of exploitation. Article 358 criminalized forced prostitution and prescribed penalties of five to 10 years imprisonment. Article 359 criminalized harboring prostitution or seducing or introducing others into prostitution, and prescribed a maximum of five years imprisonment and a fine; for the seduction of girls younger than the age of 14 into “prostitution,” it prescribed a sentence of five years or more and a fine. Penalties prescribed for sex trafficking offenses under articles 240, 241, 358, and 359 were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 244 criminalized forcing a person “to work by violence, threat or restriction of personal freedom” and recruiting, transporting, or otherwise assisting in forcing others to labor, and prescribed three to 10 years imprisonment and a fine. These penalties were sufficiently stringent.

The government continued to provide some law enforcement data. However, based on China’s nonstandard definition of trafficking—which may include migrant smuggling, child abduction, forced marriage, and fraudulent adoption—the exact number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions remained unclear. Unlike last year, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) did not report the number of investigations initiated into possible trafficking cases (1,004 in 2016), although media reports suggest authorities continued to investigate some cases. The SPC reported prosecuting and concluding 1,146 trafficking cases, culminating in 1,556 convictions (1,756 in 2016); this included 1,097 convictions for the trafficking of women and children, 420 convictions for forced prostitution, and 39 convictions for forced labor. Authorities did not disaggregate conviction data by the relevant criminal code statutes. As in prior years, the vast majority of these cases were not prosecuted under section 240 of the criminal code, and were instead tried under article 358—especially for those involving sexual exploitation. The government did not provide sentencing data, but media reports indicated imposed penalties ranged from five months imprisonment with fines of 74,000 renminbi (RMB) ($11,380) to life imprisonment. The government did not report the number of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions involving cases of children or disabled persons forced to beg or engage in other illegal activities; however, according to media reports, county- and provincial-level authorities investigated at least 24 cases of disabled persons who may have been abducted or transferred for the purpose of sexual or labor exploitation.

The government handled most cases with indicators of forced labor as administrative issues through the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Services and seldom initiated prosecutions of such cases under anti-trafficking statutes. The government engaged in law enforcement cooperation with foreign governments, investigating cases of Chinese citizens subjected to trafficking in the United States, Africa, and Europe; however, it was unclear how many of these investigations resulted in prosecutions, and in some instances—namely in Europe—Chinese authorities attempted to extradite the trafficking victims as criminals. During the reporting period, the government increased its consultative partnerships with Lao and Vietnamese law enforcement authorities to jointly address trafficking via the forced and fraudulent marriage of their citizens to Chinese individuals. Some law enforcement personnel in neighboring countries reported their Chinese counterparts were unresponsive to requests for bilateral cooperation on cross-border trafficking cases. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP) and the SPC reported providing anti-trafficking training for law enforcement or judicial officials at the city and provincial levels without providing detailed information on these efforts, including whether they were held with the assistance of international organizations. In August, the vice mayor of Dongguan and a former member of the National People’s Congress were sentenced to life imprisonment for their involvement in “organizing prostitution” in 2014, but it was unclear whether the criminal acts involved trafficking offenses. Despite reports of police accepting bribes from sex traffickers, including brothel owners, the government did not report any additional investigations of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government decreased efforts to protect victims. Unlike last year, the government did not report how many victims it identified during the reporting period, nor did it provide agency-specific data, although media reports indicated authorities continued to remove some victims from their exploitative situations. The government reported maintaining at least 10 shelters specifically dedicated to care for trafficking victims, as well as eight shelters for foreign trafficking victims and more than 2,300 multi-purpose shelters nationwide that could accommodate trafficking victims. Victims were entitled to shelter, medical care, counseling, social services, and—in some cases—rehabilitation services, all made available through the Ministry of Civil Affairs, a nationwide women’s organization, and grassroots NGOs. Access to specialized care depended heavily on victims’ location and gender, and the extent to which victims benefited from these services was unknown. The efficacy of the government’s previously reported victim assistance—including its eight border liaison offices with Burma, Vietnam, and Laos, victim funds, hotlines, and government-to-government agreements to assist victims—remained unclear. Foreign embassies in China reportedly provided shelter or other protective services to victims.

In conjunction with an international organization, authorities sponsored and participated in trainings on victim identification and assistance for consular officials and law enforcement, regulation of marriage migration, and interagency implementation of the national referral mechanism. MPS promulgated written instructions to law enforcement officers throughout the country with the aim of clarifying procedures for identifying victims among individuals in prostitution and those who may be subjected to exploitation via forced or fraudulent marriage. MPS officials reportedly maintained a procedure to screen for trafficking indicators among individuals arrested for alleged prostitution offenses. A 2016 policy limiting the detention of such individuals to 72 hours remained in place. Despite the existence of these procedures, and contrary to the aforementioned policy, law enforcement officials continued to arrest and detain foreign women on suspicion of prostitution crimes without screening them for indicators of sexual exploitation—sometimes for as long as four months—before deporting them for immigration violations. In some cases involving the sex and labor exploitation of Burmese women and girls via forced and fraudulent marriage to Chinese men, rural border officials—particularly in Yunnan—received victims’ complaints, provided them with temporary shelter, and helped to fund and escort their return to Burma. However, observers noted this assistance was ad hoc, and even less prevalent among front-line officers working farther inland, where some foreign victims escaped, reported these abusive circumstances to the authorities, and were summarily arrested and forcibly returned to their Chinese “husbands.” Because the national referral mechanism was not universally implemented across law enforcement efforts, it was likely that unidentified Chinese trafficking victims were also detained following arrest for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of having been subjected to trafficking.

Victims were legally entitled to request criminal prosecution and claim financial restitution through civil lawsuits against their traffickers; the government did not report whether any victims benefited from this provision. The judicial system did not require victims to testify against their traffickers in court and allowed prosecutors to submit previously recorded statements as evidence. Authorities reported repatriating a number of victims in 2017 but did not provide further information, including whether they were Chinese or foreign. The government cooperated with law enforcement agencies in European countries to shutter large-scale telephone fraud operations involving dozens of Chinese and Taiwan individuals. European authorities deemed most of the apprehended suspects in several of these cases to be victims of forced criminality and referred them to protective custody. However, PRC authorities attempted on multiple occasions to formally extradite these individuals and charge them as criminals, raising further concerns on China’s screening and identification measures. The government did not provide suspected North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. Authorities continued to detain North Korean asylum-seekers and forcibly returned some to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment or death, including in North Korean forced labor camps; it was unclear whether the government screened these individuals for indicators of trafficking. In compliance with a UN Security Council Resolution, the government reportedly repatriated some North Korean labor migrants; they were not screened for trafficking indicators or offered options to legally remain in the country.

PREVENTION

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. It funded a television show, used traditional and social media, and distributed posters and other materials at transportation and community centers to increase general understanding of the issue, including among vulnerable rural communities. Authorities held a third annual inter-ministerial meeting to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts. MPS continued to coordinate the anti-trafficking interagency process and lead interagency efforts to implement the National Action Plan on Combatting Human Trafficking. The government did not report the extent to which it funded anti-trafficking activities in furtherance of the action plan (more than 55 million RMB ($8.5 million) in 2016). MPS reportedly sent 350,000 police officers to public schools to educate children about the risks of exploitation. Academics and experts noted the gender imbalance created by the previous One-Child Policy likely continued to contribute to trafficking crimes in China. Provincial government efforts in 2016 to “legitimize” unregistered marriages between foreign women and Chinese men—a trend that was often permissive or generative of trafficking—were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government reportedly began a series of pilot programs to enable Cambodian and Vietnamese citizens to enter legally into southern China for work in hopes of stemming illicit labor migration through especially porous sections of the border; the extent to which this mitigated trafficking vulnerabilities—or to which it was implemented—was unknown.

The government hukou (household registration) system continued to contribute to the vulnerability of internal migrants by limiting employment opportunities and reducing access to social services, particularly for Chinese victims returning from exploitation broad. The government continued to address some of these vulnerabilities by requiring local governments to provide a mechanism for migrant workers to obtain residency permits. Authorities also commissioned several studies to develop mechanisms for the protection of children whose parents migrated internally for work, leaving them unsupervised and at elevated risk of exploitation; no further details on this initiative were available. The government reported efforts to reduce forced labor by including language in written agreements with foreign businesses and countries explicitly prohibiting trafficking. It attempted to reduce the demand for commercial sex through its ongoing crackdown on corruption and high profile arrests of men soliciting or procuring prostitution. The government did not report investigating or prosecuting any Chinese citizens for child sex tourism, despite widespread reports of the crime. The government provided anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions and to its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, China is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. China’s internal migrant population, estimated to exceed 180 million people, is vulnerable to trafficking, with Chinese men, women, and children subjected to forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax government enforcement. While the law prohibits employers from withholding property from an employee as a security deposit, previous reports indicate such practices continue, thereby making certain workers vulnerable to forced labor. African and Asian men are exploited on Chinese maritime vessels, working under conditions indicative of forced labor. Forced begging by adults and children occurs throughout China. Traffickers target persons with developmental disabilities and children whose parents have left them with relatives to migrate to the cities—estimated at more than 60 million—and subject them to forced labor and forced begging.

State-sponsored forced labor continued to be an area of concern in China. In 2013, the National People’s Congress ratified a decision to abolish “Re-education through labor” (RTL), a punitive system in which individuals were subjected to extra-judicial detention involving forced labor, from which the government reportedly profited. The government closed most RTL facilities by October 2015; however, the government reportedly converted some RTL facilities into state-sponsored drug rehabilitation facilities or administrative detention centers where, according to unverified reports, forced labor continues. Religious and political activists held in legal education facilities have previously reported forced labor occurring in pretrial detention and outside of penal sentences. Despite an official policy promulgated in 2016 limiting the maximum time women could be detained for prostitution offenses to 72 hours, officials continue to detain Chinese and foreign women on prostitution charges for months at a time without screening for sex trafficking. Officials detain foreign women fleeing abuse, to include sex and labor trafficking, experienced in relation to their forced or fraudulent marriages to Chinese men; many of these women remain in detention for months before authorities repatriate them—or in some cases return them to their abusive circumstances. Some of these women are held without due process in “custody and education” centers, where they are subjected to forced labor. In February 2017, local authorities in Xinjiang issued a notice that rural obligatory labor had been completely abolished throughout the province; however, amid tight government control over the flow of information out of Xinjiang, the extent to which this ban was implemented remained unclear. Although there were no confirmed reports of forced labor in Xinjiang during the reporting year, human rights organizations previously expressed concerns about forced labor under the “hashar” system of compulsory agricultural labor and under the auspices of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps—an economic and paramilitary organization with administrative control over several cities in the province. According to some reports, the Chinese government has also detained tens of thousands—and possibly hundreds of thousands—of Uighurs and sent them to special facilities for the purpose of “political reeducation.” The families of these detainees may be at elevated risk of exploitation in their absence. The impact of formal discriminatory employment policies barring Uighurs from jobs in many sectors may also place them at higher risk of exploitation. Implementation of a law placing foreign NGOs in mainland China under MPS supervision continued to impose burdensome requirements and restrictions on the activities of civil society organizations—including those able to provide services for trafficking victims and communities vulnerable to the crime. International media and the ILO report children in some work-study programs supported by local governments and schools are forced to work in factories.

Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China. Traffickers typically recruit them from rural areas and take them to urban centers, using a combination of fraudulent job offers and coercion by imposing large travel fees, confiscating passports, confining victims, or physically and financially threatening victims to compel their engagement in commercial sex. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in the trafficking of Chinese women and girls in China, recruiting victims with fraudulent employment opportunities and subsequently forcing them into commercial sex. Illicit brokers increasingly facilitate the forced and fraudulent marriage of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and African women and girls to Chinese men for fees of up $30,000. The men—sometimes in partnership with their parents—often incur large debts to cover these fees, which they attempt to recover by subjecting the “brides” to forced labor or prostitution. Some Chinese men are reportedly circumventing this brokerage system by traveling to Southeast Asian capitals and entering into legal marriages with local women and girls, then returning to China and subjecting them to forced prostitution. There are also reports of Chinese men and their parents deceiving Southeast Asian women and girls into fraudulent marriages in China, then confining them in forced concubinism for the purpose of pregnancy.

Chinese men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in at least 57 other countries. Chinese men, women, and girls are forced to labor in restaurants, shops, agriculture, and factories in overseas Chinese communities. Some are promised jobs abroad and confined to private homes upon arrival overseas, held in conditions indicative of forced labor, and compelled to conduct telephone scams. Chinese men in Africa and South America experience abuse at construction sites, in coal and copper mines, and in other extractive industries, where they face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, withholding of passports, and physical abuse. Congolese men and boys experience conditions indicative of forced labor in Chinese-owned mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Chinese women and girls are subjected to sexual exploitation throughout the world, including in major cities, construction sites, remote mining and logging camps, and areas with high concentrations of Chinese migrant workers. Chinese men reportedly engage in child sex tourism in Cambodia.

Women and children from neighboring Asian countries, Africa, and the Americas are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in China. North Korean women are subjected to forced prostitution, forced marriage, and forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, and factories. According to media and a 2015 UN report, North Korean citizens are subjected to forced labor in China by the North Korean government, possibly with the knowledge of Chinese officials. African and South American women are promised legitimate jobs in China and forced into prostitution upon arrival. The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons created a skewed sex ratio of 117 boys to 100 girls in China, which observers assert increases 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 are kidnapped or recruited through marriage brokers and transported to China, where some are subjected to commercial sex or forced labor.