As reported over the past five years, Burma is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and for women and children subjected to sex trafficking, both in Burma and abroad. Some Burmese men, women, and children who migrate for work abroad—particularly to Thailand and China, as well as other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the United States—are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Men are subjected to forced labor in fishing, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and construction abroad, while women and girls are primarily subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in garment manufacturing. NGOs continued to report instances of Burmese males transiting Thailand en route to Indonesia and Malaysia, where they are subjected to forced labor, primarily in fishing and other labor intensive industries. Some Burmese men in the Thai fishing industry are subjected to debt bondage, passport confiscation, threats of physical or financial harm, or fraudulent recruitment; some are also subjected to physical abuse and forced to remain aboard vessels in international waters for years. Burmese women are increasingly transported to China and subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude through forced marriages to Chinese men; there have been reports that Burmese government officials are occasionally complicit in this form of trafficking, as well as in the facilitation of the smuggling and exploitation of Rohingya migrants. There were limited reports of Rohingya individuals attempting to be smuggled out of the country later being abducted in transit and sold into forced marriage in Malaysia; some of these individuals may have become victims of domestic servitude or sex trafficking.
Within Burma, men, women, and children from predominantly ethnic minority areas—including the estimated 103,000 persons displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states and the estimated 120,000 displaced persons in Rakhine state—are at increased risk of trafficking. Rohingya individuals are particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking in Rakhine state, including forced labor perpetrated by government authorities. Many among the estimated 70,000 Rohingya who have crossed out of Rakhine into neighboring Bangladesh in 2016 and early 2017 are at elevated risk of being subjected to trafficking. Ethnic Rakhine are reported to be victims of forced labor on the margins of conflict between the military and ethnic armed groups in Rakhine State. Local traffickers use deceptive tactics to recruit men into forced labor on oil palm and rubber plantations, in jade and precious stone mines, and in fishing. Children are subjected to sex trafficking or to forced labor (at times through debt bondage) in teashops, small businesses, the agricultural and construction sectors, and in begging. Children and adults are subjected to domestic servitude. A small number of foreign child sex tourists exploit Burmese children.
Some military personnel, civilian brokers, border guard officials, and ethnic armed groups continue to recruit or use child soldiers, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas, although monitoring groups report the incidence of forced conscription into government armed forces continued to decrease significantly. As of the close of the reporting period, international monitors had verified two cases of child recruitment by the Burmese military in 2016. In some cases, recruiters use deception, offering incentives or coercing children or their families through false promises about working conditions, salary, and promotion opportunities. Men and boys are forced to serve in ethnic armed groups through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence; in the past, the Burmese army has employed similar tactics, although no such cases were verified during the reporting period. Some child soldiers are deployed to the front-line as combatants. In addition to formally recruiting at least two children into its ranks in 2016, the military may have continued to use children for labor or other support roles. Some ethnic armed groups abduct or recruit children—including from internally displaced persons’ camps—for use as soldiers in fighting against the Burmese army.
The Burmese military, civilian officials, and some ethnic armed groups use various forms of coercion, including threats of financial and physical harm, to compel victims into forced labor. In areas with active conflict, members of local populations—mostly men, but also women and children as young as 12 years old—are subject to forced labor. The ILO continued to receive reports indicating the actual use of forced labor is decreasing overall, but the number of complaints of forced labor through the ILO complaints mechanism remained significant. Reports of forced labor occurred across the country; prevalence was higher in states with significant armed conflict, while reports declined in cease-fire states. Reporting and verification mechanisms were weak or non-existent in conflict areas, making it difficult to fully assess the ongoing scale of forced labor. Officials continued to use violence or threats thereof to compel civilians into forced labor, including portering, work on public infrastructure projects, and activities related to the military’s “self-reliance” policy —under which military battalions are responsible for procuring their own food and labor supplies from local villagers, who in turn are at a significantly elevated risk of forced labor through the arrangement. The army uses children as porters, cooks within battalions, or to carry supplies or perform other support roles. Some observers noted forced labor practices were changing, resulting in a reported decrease in the use of forced labor by the military and an increase in reports of forced labor in the private sector and by civilian officials. At the same time, international organizations reported forced labor remains common in areas affected by conflicts—particularly in Rakhine State. There were continued reports of widespread abuses by government soldiers, including forced labor of members of ethnic groups in Shan, Karen, and Kachin states. Land confiscation by military, local government, and private businesses placed agricultural workers at risk for forced labor, including on lands they previously occupied.