As reported over the last five years, Laos is a source and, to a much lesser extent, a transit and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Lao trafficking victims often are migrants seeking better opportunities outside the country who experience labor or sexual exploitation in destination countries—most often Thailand, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Some migrate with the assistance of brokers charging fees, but many also cross borders independently with valid travel documents. Traffickers, including victims’ family members, are often known to those in the rural communities where they lure victims with false promises of legitimate work abroad.
A large number of victims, particularly women and girls, are exploited in Thailand’s commercial sex industry and in forced labor in domestic service, factories, or agriculture. Lao men and boys are victims of forced labor in Thailand’s fishing, construction, and agricultural industries. Lao victims of forced labor in the Thai fishing industry have been identified in Indonesian waters. NGOs report individuals offering transportation services near the Thai border facilitate the placement of economic migrants into forced labor or sex trafficking in Thailand. Foreign traffickers increasingly collaborate with local Lao middlemen to facilitate trafficking. Many trafficking victims may be among the more than 10,000 migrants deported or “pushed back” annually from Thailand without official notification, often by way of boats across the Mekong River. Vehicle drivers sometimes intercept these migrants when they return to Laos and facilitate their re-trafficking. A small number of women and girls from Laos are sold as brides in China and subjected to sex trafficking; according to the UN, this trend may have spiked during the reporting period due to the sharp increase of Chinese men registering marriages with Lao women in 2016. Some local officials reportedly contributed to trafficking vulnerabilities by accepting payments to facilitate the immigration or transportation of girls to China.
Laos is reportedly a transit country for some Vietnamese and Chinese women and girls who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in neighboring countries, particularly Thailand. Local organizations reported concerns that some of the Vietnamese men and women working in or near (often illegal) logging and construction areas along the Laos-Vietnam border may be trafficking victims. They reported similar concerns about Burmese nationals working as manual laborers or involved in the sex trade near the “Golden Triangle”—the geographic area marked by the intersection of the Lao, Burmese, and Thai borders.
There remained little data on the scope of trafficking within Laos. International organizations reported a high number of undocumented migrant workers in Lao Special or Specific Economic Zones might be vulnerable to trafficking or other labor abuses. Some Vietnamese, Chinese, and Lao women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in the country, usually in larger cities or in close proximity to borders, casinos, or special economic zones, reportedly to meet the demand of Asian tourists and migrant workers. Some Lao adults and children are subjected to forced labor in the agricultural sector within Laos. Populations in villages resettled due to the construction of dams and other large infrastructure projects may be especially vulnerable. Reports indicate child sex tourists from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States travel to Laos intending to exploit child sex trafficking victims.