The government decreased law enforcement efforts. It reported crimes outside international law’s definition of human trafficking, making it difficult to assess appreciable progress from the previous reporting period. Not all statistics were captured by the central government. The criminal code prohibits many forms of trafficking, although it differs from international law on human trafficking. Article 240 of the 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 women and children. While the acts that comprise the crime are not tied specifically to a purpose of exploitation, as international law defines trafficking in persons, crimes such as forced labor or forced prostitution are addressed in related articles. In addition, a 2016 opinion from the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) interpreting article 240, et seq. provides that “selling and buying human beings is banned for any reason. The SPC will penalize crimes of trafficking and purchasing regardless of victims’ gender, age, and nationality for whatever purpose according to the law.” Crimes under article 240 are punishable by no less than 10 years imprisonment, with life imprisonment or the death penalty possible in particularly serious circumstances. Article 241 criminalizes the purchase of women or children, although like article 240, it does not require that the purchase be done for the purpose of exploitation as international law defines human trafficking. Article 358 criminalizes organizing prostitution and forced prostitution, which is punishable by five to 10 years imprisonment or, with aggravated circumstances, up to life imprisonment. Article 359 makes it a crime to harbor prostitution or seduce or introduce others into prostitution and is subject to a maximum five years sentence and payment of a fine; for the seduction of girls younger than the age of 14 into ‘prostitution,’ the sentence is five years or more and a fine. Under international law, the inducement of children under the age of 18 to engage in prostitution, without resort to force, fraud, or coercion, and the forced prostitution of adults, are both forms of sex trafficking. Article 244 makes it a crime to force a person “to work by violence, threat or restriction of personal freedom” and to recruit, transport or otherwise assist in forcing others to labor, punishable by three to 10 years imprisonment and a fine. Prescribed penalties under all these statutes are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, including rape. In January 2017, SPC issued a widely-publicized formal interpretation regarding the application of the law in cases involving the trafficking of women and children which advised that in certain cases, including when women or children were purchased and then subjected to sexual exploitation or begging, respectively, a person found guilty of trafficking should be convicted “according to the provisions of combined punishment for several crimes,” thereby increasing the penalty for such crimes.
The government continued to provide some law enforcement data; it reported investigating 1,004 trafficking cases (1,414 in 2015) and convicting 1,756 traffickers (2,076 in 2015) in 2016. However, unlike in the previous reporting period, it did not report the number of prosecutions initiated in 2016. In addition, due to China’s definition of human trafficking, which may include human smuggling, child abduction, forced marriage, and fraudulent adoptions, the exact number of trafficking offenses the government investigated, prosecuted, and convicted was unclear. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported investigating 1,004 cases of human trafficking and arresting 2,036 suspects (1,932 in 2015), including 45 suspected cases of forced labor (21 in 2015) involving the arrest of 74 suspects. In one investigation across 13 provinces involving disabled labor trafficking victims, the government arrested 464 suspects. The government reported convicting 435 sex traffickers (642 in 2015) and 19 labor traffickers (72 in 2015) as well as convicting 1,302 offenders in cases in which it was unclear what forms of exploitation occurred. 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.
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 increased law enforcement cooperation with foreign governments, investigating cases of Chinese citizens subjected to trafficking in the United States, Africa and Europe, with some investigations resulting in prosecutions. The government reported funding training in rural areas for court officials and prosecutors; however, it did not provide detailed information on these efforts. In addition, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges attended trainings on trafficking organized by other countries and international organizations; when authorities participated in these trainings, the PRC sometimes provided speakers and venues, and funded lodging, transportation, and meals for some participants. Despite reports of police accepting bribes from sex traffickers, including brothel owners, the government reported few investigations of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. Two officials who reportedly solicited child trafficking victims for commercial sex acts were expelled from their political party and positions; however it is unclear if the government subjected these officials to criminal prosecution.