Due to the tenuous political situation, the government faced serious challenges to combat trafficking, including substantial internal security threats, weak institutions, systemic corruption, a shrinking economy, limited territorial control, and poor law enforcement capabilities. The government made no discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Government efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders were hampered by the absence of a law criminalizing all forms of trafficking and the government’s conflation of trafficking and smuggling. Article 248 of the penal code prescribes up to 10 years imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, or gives [a human being] as a present, or deals in human beings; and anyone who brings into the country or exports from it a human being with the intent of taking advantage of him.” This statute’s prescribed penalty is commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape; however, its narrow focus on transactions and movement does not prohibit many forms of sex trafficking and forced labor as defined under international law. Article 161 of the Child Rights Law criminalizes the “prostitution of children.” While the government’s inter-ministerial National Technical Committee to Combat Human Trafficking drafted anti-trafficking legislation, with assistance from an international organization, prior to its departure, Houthi rebels illegally disbanded parliament in February 2015, and the legislation has not been enacted.
The government did not have access to or oversight of the courts and therefore did not report efforts to prosecute, convict, or punish trafficking offenses during the year. It made no known efforts to investigate or punish the practice of chattel slavery. In addition, the government was unable to pursue any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, despite previous reports of officials engaged in trafficking in both urban and rural areas, including the domestic servitude of children and women, forced prostitution of women, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and forced labor of migrant workers. Allegedly, local government and security officials willfully ignored trafficking crimes in their respective areas of responsibility. Prior to the conflict, the government did not effectively enforce anti-trafficking provisions due to a lack of resources and the financial interests of the elite, many of whom allegedly benefited from forced labor.
The government did not have the access to identify and provide adequate protection services to trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as women in prostitution and foreign migrants. As a result, the government could not ensure trafficking victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, such as prostitution or immigration violations. An international organization identified 25 victims of trafficking, most of whom were adults. Although the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Women and Children Unit had formal standard operating procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims, efforts to implement or train law enforcement on these procedures were suspended due to the prolonged unrest. Furthermore, the government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers or to provide assistance to its nationals repatriated after enduring trafficking abroad. In May 2014, the government acknowledged the use of child soldiers and signed a UN action plan to end the practice; however, it did not make efforts to release child soldiers from the military or provide them with protective or rehabilitation services. Furthermore, an international organization continued to express concerns about the detention by the Yemeni Armed Forces (YAF) of children for alleged association with Houthi rebel forces. The government took some action in criticizing or condemning the rebel recruitment of child soldiers, including public press statements, and expressed its commitment to properly address this crime.
Due to its broad lack of access and governance capacity issues, the government was unable to make efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. A draft national strategy to combat trafficking initiated by the Ministry of Human Rights, in coordination with an international organization, remains pending. The draft includes plans for raising awareness, increasing cooperation between Yemen and neighboring countries, training officials in victim identification, and instituting procedures to protect victims. During a previous reporting period, the government enacted a regulation requiring MOI approval for Yemenis to marry foreigners, in an effort to reduce sex tourism among foreigners, particularly Saudis and Emiratis who “temporarily” married young Yemeni women; however, officials continued to provide such approval in exchange for bribes. Further, the government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel and could not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, forced labor, or address the problem of sex tourism more broadly. Yemen is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
Since the escalation of armed conflict in March 2015, human rights organizations reported all parties to the conflict have increased their recruitment and use of child soldiers. As a result of its limited capacity and the ongoing conflict, the Yemeni government has not implemented a 2014 UN action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Despite a 1991 law requiring members of the armed forces to be at least 18 years of age and a May 2014 UN action plan to prevent recruitment of children into its armed forces, credible reports indicated the acceleration of recruitment of children throughout the country, due to expansion of military activity by government forces as well as by Houthi-Saleh rebel forces, tribal and other militias, and al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). During the year, these armed groups increased their recruitment, training, and deployment of children as participants in the conflict. An international organization observed Houthis using children as uniformed soldiers and at checkpoints during the reporting period. AQAP recruited boys for combat operations against military and security forces. Armed boys, reportedly as young as 10 years old, are believed to have worked for Houthi militias and government forces. Some families supportive of Houthi rebels, including those residing in locations outside Houthi control, sent their children to the Houthi stronghold of Sa’ada in northwestern Yemen for arms training by the Houthis to serve in their militias. According to an international organization, between April and June 2016, armed groups recruited and used at least 168 children, compared to 140 the previous reporting period. The majority of incidents were attributed to the Houthis, followed by the YAF, Popular Committees, and AQAP. In 2016, the Saudi-led coalition handed over to Yemeni officials 52 child soldiers alleged to have been recruited by the Houthis; the children were detained in a camp controlled by the YAF. Yemen’s security, political, and economic crises, cultural acceptance of child soldiering, weak law enforcement mechanisms, and limited political will continued to severely encumber the country’s capacity to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.